Nike is the latest company to up its return-to-office policy from 3 days to 4. It’s a sign that hybrid work might have been a fake compromise

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Nike has a new return-to-office strategy: telling employees to “just do it.” The sportswear brand recently announced that it is moving the needle on its in-office mandate from three to four days a week starting in January.

The footwear giant first announced its three-days-in-office-a-week plan in 2021, but delayed implementing it until the spring of 2022 due to COVID variants. Now it wants more. “We’ve seen the power and energy that comes from working together in person, and we aim to create more of that,” a Nike spokesperson said in a statement to Footwear News.

Over the past two years, CEOs have been fighting rounds of pandemic surges and employee pushback to bring workers back to the office. They’ve been somewhat successful, with hybrid work becoming the norm and office occupancy rates hovering around 50%, according to data from building security firm Kastle Systems. But leaders aren’t giving up on their dreams of a bustling office or a return on their real estate investment, as 90% of companies intend to return to the office by 2024, per a ResumeBuilder survey.

And it's not just Nike bringing down the hammer to make it happen. Chipotle and BlackRock have also bumped up their in-office mandates from three days to four this year, while more companies are reneging on remote-work policies for a hybrid option.

Online gaming platform Roblox is one of the latest to join the office train, announcing that remote workers will begin to work from their headquarters by next summer. Giving the employees the option to either come in three days a week or take a severance package, CEO David Baszucki noted in a statement that virtual workplaces are not as “engaging, collaborative, and productive as physical spaces.”

Meanwhile, Amazon has had a three-day in-office requirement since April. But the mandate hasn’t run smoothly, with a senior executive admitting it hasn’t “been perfect” (30,000 workers signed an anti-RTO petition ahead of the mandate starting). The company updated its RTO guidelines this week, seen by Insider, to give managers the ability to fire workers who don’t comply with the hybrid mandate.

Boiling the frog

Companies inching closer to a full-time office return are following the predictions of Laszlo Bock, former chief of Google human resources and current CEO of Humu, who predicted to Bloomberg a year ago that hybrid mandates will slowly chip away and become a normal in-office schedule, a method he referred to as boiling the frog.

“The purpose of the ‘boil the frog method’ [is] to do it subtly and thereby avoid difficult questions and conflict,” Bock told Fortune. “But that’s not only bad for trust and morale, it’s also not the best thing for employees or for the company.”

Indeed, the push for the office might come at the cost of workers, as nine out of ten employees still consider flexible work options important during their job search, per a BCG survey. Those who were unhappy with their new mandate weren’t looking to stay, as respondents dissatisfied with the company work model were more than 2.5 times more likely to consider leaving next year than those who were satisfied.

The longevity of hybrid work is still in question, as some surveys suggest that the three day in-office policy will hold favor. Don’t tell CEOs, though—about 64% of executives believe there will be a full return to office by 2026, per accounting and consulting firm KPMG. Only 7% of those believe that fully remote work will exist as the norm in the long term. But by the time the fully in-person schedule is implemented, there might not be any employees left to corral.

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