The conundrum facing executives nationwide these days is one familiar to anyone who has ever planned a birthday gathering: “It’s really hard to get anybody to come to a party if everybody R.S.V.P.s maybe,” said Zach Dunn, an expert on hybrid work and founder of the workplace management company Robin.
Now imagine that party involved paychecks, bottom lines and a 10-year lease. So when Mr. Dunn counsels executives on their return to office plans, he encounters inordinate stress over the question of whether to mandate that employees spend certain days in the office, or opt for flexibility while enticing people with activities and meals, relying on pure enthusiasm to fuel the great return.
Those decisions have grown more complex in recent weeks, as Covid cases surged and return to office plans lurched. Apple, for example, which has faced fierce internal opposition to its R.T.O. plan, told workers last week that the company was scaling its office requirement back from three days a week to an optional two days.
R.T.O. plans used to be held together with something like magic, or at least like math: Three days in the office — the bulk of the workweek — and two days at home. Three days for that mythic cafeteria banter, two days for pants that don’t button. Now? Forget it. The three-two weekday R.T.O. split, like so many other aspects of office reopening plans, has begun to seem less like gospel and more like gibberish.