Why Return To Office Mandates Are About Control And Nothing Else

return to office mandate
Photo by Joyce Romero on Unsplash

In 2020, when the world was first crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the bright spots, if you will, was a move to more remote work for almost every industry that could allow it. 

Employees were given more freedom of where they lived, spending more time with family, and not wasting time commuting back and forth with all the frustration that comes with it. That’s especially true for those who worked for studios in major cities like London, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Montreal, and others. 

To say it was a game changer for thousands would be an understatement.

Now, just four years later, after companies put out claims of caring about the well-being of their employees, doing what’s best for them, and, even more laughable, “being a family”, we see more and more studios forcing a return to office in some form.

From Ubisoft to Rockstar and many in between, companies are going back on past promises to employees, forcing some to either uproot their lives again or risk being laid off in an industry that’s not afraid to mass terminate jobs.

But why are studios doing it? They’ll say it’s to polish games or to be more focused on development or some other manufactured reason spun up by those at the top, but it’s obvious what they’re doing it for: control.

As someone who’s worked in software development for nearly a decade, there’s a major difference in the control executives have over you when you are in office as opposed to being remote.

Remotely, they can’t walk by you at any moment to “check” on you. They can’t really coerce you into working late to finish tasks with a partial argument of, “Well, you’re already here”.

Remotely, work-life balance becomes actually achievable. The micromanaging becomes almost impossible. I say almost solely because, if you are using a company-provided computer, they can still track what you’re doing and how active you are on your machine if they want. It’s just more tedious and adds extra steps to manage.

Ubisoft is one of those companies forcing a return to office

In office, it all becomes easier for management to control their employees. On top of that, all the benefits of remote work that could make an employee more productive or comfortable with work go out the window.

Despite it being cheaper and more cost-effective for people to work from home, forcing a return to office mandate also allows companies to force attrition within an organization and reduce payroll, if that’s a goal. By forcing people to return to the office, even those who were previously told it wouldn’t happen and could move away from the office, it opens up to them leaving the company without having to be offered any sort of severance.

They can then replace them with people who will willingly come into the office, giving them that control and justifying that expensive office space lease that’s being paid.

Now, what about those who do choose to move back closer to the office? These are companies that, as mentioned, have no issue laying off large amounts of people. Who’s to say that there’s a group who moved away and chose to move back — for one reason or another — only to find themselves let go mere months later?

Some will say, “That’s the risk you take by moving in the first place”. Sure, in normal circumstances, I get it. But in an industry as quick to try and make shareholders happy as opposed to creating a positive work environment, how can you think of moving you and/or your family around regularly with that risk hanging over you daily?

One anonymous Rockstar employee said it perfectly in a comment to VGC, saying:

“Working from home has been a lifeline for many of us at Rockstar, allowing us to balance care responsibilities, manage disabilities, and relocate as we need. Now, Rockstar is snatching away that lifeline without a second thought for the workers who’ll be impacted most.”

“Then they should just quit!” Ok, sure. Quit. They can’t truly force you to come in. You can just leave the company. 

That all sounds well and good except when you look at the fact that many people have their health insurance tied to their workplace. That means, you leave, you lose crucial medical care.

What about those who, in some cases, are in a country on a work visa?  Depending on the country, you have a 30-60 grace period to find a new job before being forced to leave the country. The problem with that is that the hiring process in today’s market can often take longer than that visa’s grace period would allow. Once again, this puts control in the hands of the company forcing the mandates.

One last thing about return-to-office mandates like these. They can also be seen as a cover-up for poor management. By forcing employees back to the office, it allows companies to blame any semblance of performance drop – even without proof of that being the case – on the employees who’ve worked remotely. You know, instead of on those responsible for managing. It’s not something any company will admit, but it’s obvious to anyone looking at the situation from all angles. Even the University of Pittsburgh released a study on the real purpose behind these mandates, backing up these beliefs.

Again, it all comes down to one simple thing: control.

Now, I’m not going to say remote work is for everyone. I know it’s not. It requires a level of discipline that not everyone has. Some people just work better in an office setting while others work better at home, away from the temptation of small talk and colleagues. It’s all about having the freedom of choice, not forcing one way or another.

But giving employees that sort of freedom gives up control. And you simply can’t have that now, can you?

  1. The only reason. And I mean only reason I can see coming into work is for hands on work. But in the gaming industry. I think that there is one reason I would want people in: I would want whatever we were making on internal servers only so that it couldn’t be stolen like so many things were this past year.

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