Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging

Your return to office policy is hurting your DEI efforts – here’s why

Back in the dark pandemic days most of us would rather forget, those of us who dislike office-based working rejoiced when jobs moved out of the office and into the home. We were blissfully unaware at that point what a battle the return to office conversation would become.

Back then, we all thought that the transition to remote work would mean a massive shift in how businesses operated. We thought they’d finally understand the importance of remote working for employees’ mental and physical health, diversity, and business success.

After all, working from home doesn’t make employees less productive. It makes them more productive.

I recently spoke to a former colleague who said that the company now works mostly remotely, with occasional in-office time.


Because they found employees worked better when they worked remotely. At the same time, they did still need some people around for face-to-face interactions. In this situation, hybrid working was the perfect compromise.

So then, why is there a mass return to office going on? 

Even Zoom, the very company that enabled so many of us to work remotely during the pandemic, has mandated a return to office. 

There seems to be a discrepancy between what employees want, and how much managers trust them. 

But if managers don’t trust their employees, why did they hire them in the first place? 

I mean, I know places like this still exist. But do they have to make it so obvious? It’s not going to help their future hiring efforts with so many people now wanting to work remotely.

This is especially true when it comes to hiring talent from underrepresented communities. Here’s why mandating a return to office can be especially harmful to your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

Not everyone works well in an office

There are very few people who concentrate better in an office. Those people make up around 3% of the population.

There are some parts of office-based work—like the background noise, or the overhead lights, or even using the wrong equipment—that we may not consciously realize impact our productivity. Especially if we’re used to blocking them out or just sucking it up.

But, over time, the impact compounds. It reduces how much employees can concentrate, and therefore how much work they get done.

When you force a return to office where everyone has to work in the same environment, sacrifices and compromises have to be made. 

Which means that there’s a high chance some employees will leave. 

For many people now, remote or hybrid working is a non-negotiable requirement when they job hunt. Which means if they already work for you and you change the rules, they’re not going to think twice about leaving you in their rear-view mirror.

It’s impossible to accommodate everyone’s needs in an office

Health and safety regulations, while important to follow, are based on what fits most people, not everyone.

We all have unique needs from our work environment. It’s the same way that some of us have different dietary requirements.

I once had a colleague who got relentless migraines because of how bright the new LED lights were. But HR insisted that the white lights were better for our long-term eye health. His migraines begged to differ.

Truth is, it’s impossible to accommodate everyone’s needs, especially in a larger business. Some people will always slip through the cracks for one reason or another. Which isn’t fair on anyone, and makes return to office a bad approach if you want to maintain and increase diversity.

Underrepresented talent is at a disadvantage in an office

When I asked Workrowd CEO Rachel Goor her thoughts on the current mass return to office, she said:

While it’s often overlooked in return to office discussions, where employees work actually has huge implications for DEI progress. For example, being in the office creates more pressure to conform with racially biased workplace expectations. It disadvantages caregivers who have to juggle commuting and being away from home on top of their familial responsibilities. It makes it more difficult for people with disabilities to access the necessary accommodations to thrive. Bottom line: if you want to recruit and retain talent from underrepresented communities, don’t mandate a return to office.

Offices can be rife with judgment and cliques. Whether this is conscious or not, it reduces psychological safety and makes the environment less welcoming for everyone. Societal pressures take up a lot of subconscious headspace that can have long-term impacts on someone’s emotional health.

Offering training around these issues can help. Ultimately though, employees need to want to understand and improve for it to make a difference.

Forcing employees to work in an office shrinks your talent pool

If you only hire people who can commute into the office, you significantly shrink your talent pool. Not just in terms of location, but in terms of skill set and experience, too. 

That means your competitors who accommodate remote work are more likely to find the best person for the job. 

After all, what are the odds the best candidate lives just down the road from you? Pretty slim.

Many candidates from underrepresented communities can’t, or don’t want to, work in an office. A single parent may struggle to be in the office by nine in the morning, but they could drop their children off at school and still get back to their desk at home on time.

With the average commute at around an hour, that’s a big chunk of someone’s day dedicated to traveling.

Office-based work simply introduces more variables

People want a better work-life. Remote or hybrid working provides that in a way a full-scale return to office never could.

A wheelchair user might not fit in your elevator, or be able to climb the stairs. If they work in their own space though, they can still get to their desk to work.

Spray air fresheners, or employees’ excessive uses of deodorant or perfume, may be unsuitable for someone with asthma or COPD. At home though, they have control of the atmosphere and what is (and isn’t) sprayed in it. Without you having to put policies in place to enable them to breathe.

I could go on, but you probably get my point. There are so many variables you have to juggle in an office. It’s never going to be as inclusive or as welcoming as allowing someone to work in their own space.


Some jobs, like manufacturing, require employees to be in a physical location. Office-type work generally doesn’t. And most people don’t like it either.

Foregoing your physical office space saves you money that you can spend on other areas of your business. This could include growing your DEI efforts through hiring, training, and employee engagement.

So why not boost your employer brand by giving employees what they want? If you’re ready to overcome misguided notions about return to office and build an engaged and inclusive hybrid and remote culture, Workrowd can help.

With a one-stop shop for all your employee programs, groups, and events, you can drive real belonging from day one, no matter where or when people work. Organizing your resources and announcements through a central hub saves time and ensures everyone is always on the same page.

Plus, real-time analytics empower you with the data you need to maximize your resources. Sound interesting? Visit us online to learn more, or drop us a note at

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