The head of Disney has instructed remote employees to start heading back to the office for four days a week, in a bid to increase in-person collaboration and creativity.
Chief exec Bob Iger wants employees who typically spend more time working from home to “treat Monday through Thursday as in-person workdays”, according to reports.
Iger, who returned to the CEO role in November 2022, having previously held the position for 15 years before stepping down in 2022, stated his belief that "working together more in-person will benefit the company's creativity, culture, and our employees' careers," according to an internal memo seen by the BBC.
The memo also said: "Nothing can replace the ability to connect, observe, and create with peers that comes from being physically together, nor the opportunity to grow professionally by learning from leaders and mentors.”
Iger had previously hinted at making some major overhauls to Disney’s working structures at the time he was reinstated as CEO back in November.
He told employees at the time: "It is my intention to restructure things in a way that honours and respects creativity as the heart and soul of who we are."
"I fundamentally believe storytelling is what fuels this company, and it belongs at the centre of how we organise our business," he said in the email, seen by the BBC.
He added he’d tasked a group of executives with designing "a new structure that puts more decision-making back in the hands of our creative teams and rationalises costs".
Is office working really better than remote?
The argument that collaboration thrives through face-to-face work is a logical one, but recent data has highlighted just how integral homeworking has become to workers’ lives. As such, HR leaders considering scrapping (or scaling back) their remote working plans have a lot to consider.
A 2022 study found that flexibility is the key to retaining top talent in 2022 and beyond. Owl Labs, a global collaborative technology company, polled 2,000 full-time employees, finding that 37% of respondents said they were more productive working remotely, whilst a further 43% haven’t experienced a change in their level of productivity when working remotely.
The shift to flexible working takes thoughtful and purposeful planning, yet only 36% of employees believe that their managers received hybrid or remote management training. A further 16% believe they should receive more training in the future.
Unsurprisingly, 30% of office workers find building relationships with remote colleagues harder. As a result, 59% of managers (and 62% of executives) are more likely to ask the opinion or engage with those they physically work with over those that are remote.
Work-life balance & inclusion have improved due to WFH
Data released in 2021 indicated that organisations that have committed to supporting remote work seem to be carving out more inclusive work experiences for staff members.
The latest analysis from Glint – which looked at aggregated data from millions of staff engagement surveys from more than 600 global firms – found that staff members at remote work-friendly organisations were 14% more likely to say that they felt safe to speak their minds.
Elsewhere, nine per cent were more likely to state that their leaders value different perspectives, compared to peers in organisations that haven’t enabled remote work.
Will Disney’s move be a success?
The creative minds at Disney must surely be able to see their creativity thrive under any conditions, particularly after adapting to almost three years of remote and hybrid working. But the back-to-office mandate has been gathering steam for many months now, with only the current cost-of-living and cost-of-doing-businesses crises threatening to derail these plans for many firms.
It’s these issues that prove hybrid and remote working are not going away anytime soon, in which case, HR and business leaders must adapt their expectations and attitudes towards workers who take the WFH option. You cannot offer employees the opportunity of flexible working and then kick up a fuss when they want to work flexibly.
Perhaps a happy medium can be found, where in-office working still makes up the majority of the working week, but remains less than four-fifths of an employee’s weekly calendar.