How To Decide Between Work-From-Anywhere And Return-To-Office?

There are contrasting approaches to remote work…

Recently, Apple had its employees protesting its return-to-office policy, which mandates working from the office because CEO Tim Cook finds offices ‘irreplaceable’. The exit of one of their senior leaders, citing this policy as a key reason has further added to the debate on remote work vs. in-office work.

In a completely opposite approach, Airbnb’s Brian Chesky has declared that offices are ‘pre-digital age’ and wholly unnecessary. It seems like people agree with this view because Airbnb reported that over 800,000 people flocked to their career page. This was right after they announced a ‘work from anywhere, forever’ policy.

… but the demand for working flexibly is high

A study by the Pew Research Center claims that people want to work from home out of preference and not a necessity. 61% of those who work from home said that they prefer to work remotely.

However, it does not simply mean all companies can adopt a remote work model and make it work for their people. A FinTech company in the US might adapt to being remote as compared to a government office in a developing nation where much of the work is done using paper documents, instead of online.

More and more people are looking at joining companies that allow flexibility to work from wherever they want.

However, what is flexibility?

Different companies define flexibility in different ways. However, broadly, flexibility is being able to provide your people with a feeling of belonging, being able to perform to their potential and a feeling that their wellbeing matters.

The best way to build flexibility is – ASK YOUR EMPLOYEES about what will help them deliver their best work without impacting their wellbeing.

Flexibility is instrumental in creating a great workforce experience (Wx).

How can you be flexible?

The debate does not need to be about remote work, office work, or hybrid work. What you need to be clear on is – which of these will create the most meaningful and valued Wx.

1. Set clear priorities: Define what means most to your business, a bunch of clock-watchers waiting for 5 pm to switch off or an energized set of people enthusiastic to work towards the strategic objectives of your company?

How can you motivate and engage your people? Agree on the outcomes and define what flexible working means in their context.

2. Communicate regularly: Establish two-way communication channels that allow people to hear from you and also present their own opinions and ideas. In a remote environment, while people enjoy the flexibility, they may also feel left out of important communication.

Establish ways of working that help people in achieving great outcomes. No one from the manufacturing shop floor will be demanding remote work.

However, understand what flexibility means to them and how the Wx can help them in flexible working, while also meeting company priorities.

3. Focus on wellbeing: While commuting times have reduced drastically from an hour or more to the distance from your bedroom to your home office, there are pros and cons to that.

People are reporting feeling burned out because there is no more shut-the-computer-at-5pm-and-leave. There is an ‘always on’ culture, which takes its toll on physical and mental wellbeing.

In addition, it also damages the Wx and reduces people’s performance. Ensure that you focus on how wellbeing could be impacted and take steps to fix it.

For example, you can create ways of working that allow people to communicate based on flexible schedules rather than the moment they hear an email notification on their phones.

4. Recognize and reward: Highlight people’s contributions and help them in feeling valued. Align your reward and recognition programs with the performance outcomes and behaviors that matter to the organization.

Evaluate whether your recognition and rewards are relevant and enable people to bring their best to work. Not only that, get the tone of your recognition right.

For example, recognizing a high-performing employee for being always available even at 2 am and regularly working long hours is pointless. It focuses on the wrong behavior and can do more harm than good to the Wx.


In a nutshell, on a spectrum that has Airbnb at one end and Apple on the other, you don’t have to be either. Evaluate your opportunities and constraints and decide how you can build an excellent workplace by elevating your Wx.

Every industry and every geographical location would have unique challenges to enable flexible work options. Hence, a ‘plug-and-play’ model that involves merely following market trends is bound to fail.

To discuss more on how you can create a flexible work environment that delivers the best experience to your customers and to your people, reach out to us.

About the Author

Sumit Singla 

Founder of eleventHR Consulting.

Sumit has been working in HR & HR consulting roles for 16+
years across sectors and verticals and specializes in
organization design, wellbeing, storytelling & design thinking, and performance management. In his career with consulting firms such as Aon, Deloitte, and Accenture, he has successfully led programs aimed at total HR transformation for clients.

 Recently, as Associate Director for India Consulting at Deloitte, he worked with clients on cultural transformation and HR process and policy design. He also organized and spoke at conferences and events about a variety of topics relevant to HR today.

Now self-employed, he works with clients across the globe on a variety of HR solution areas.

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