The Buzz Around Forced Return-To-Office Mandates & 5 Tips to Lead More Effective Remote Teams

June 21, 2024


Emily May

There’s much debate regarding whether formerly remote or hybrid employers should mandate their employees return to the office.

As we move further away from the height of the pandemic, the conversation between business leaders and their teams has become increasingly “disjointed,” our CEO describes. 

The push and pull between organizational needs and employee preferences probes many questions and potential solutions. 

This article explores ICAgile’s perspective on return-to-office mandates and our tips to lead more effective remote teams for those continuing to work in a remote or hybrid model. 

What Are Return-To-Office Mandates?

Return-to-office mandates refer to companies that previously worked in a remote or hybrid setting during or before the pandemic and are now calling employees back to the office. These policies look different for every company–some teams are returning to work on a hybrid model, while others are returning to a full-time in-person schedule. 

For example, Fortune 500 companies like Apple and Google have established post-pandemic policies requiring employees to be in the office at least three days a week–and workers have a lot of feelings about it, some going as far as starting petitions against the mandates.

ICAgile’s Perspective on Return To The Office Mandates

cartoon of people returning to work

I spoke with business leader Shannon Ewan to gain insight into ICAgile's perspective on the widespread return-to-office movement. 

“There’s a tendency towards a one-size-fits-all approach to return to work policies. Companies may be following what’s happening in big tech without considering how these changes impact their employee base and the work they’re doing as an organization,” she said. 

She described how organizations should recognize the value of involving their team in key decision-making to discover what works well and what needs to be improved, like collecting feedback on why workers don’t want to return to the office.

Beyond team preferences, we discussed that an organization's working model, whether remote, hybrid, or in-person, should weigh heavily on the nature of the work. For example, she described how, eight years ago, ICAgile moved to a fully remote model before remote work was popular. They made this decision because most of the team’s work was international, which required coordinating via email, phone, or video conferencing with people worldwide. Therefore, there wasn’t a need to occupy a physical office. The ICAgile team still works on a fully remote model today and conducts international business regularly. 

However, Ewan also expressed the nuance in why organizations bring their employees back to the office, such as the need to work with customers in person or being locked into lease agreements. Ultimately, while employee preference for remote work is a consideration, the harsh reality is that it may only work for some businesses. 

ICAgile believes that team working arrangements should be customized to fit the nature of the work and unique circumstances of the business. Whether it's maintaining current arrangements or making changes, like implementing a return-to-office policy, it's essential to consider employee feedback before and after the process.

5 Tips to Lead More Effective Remote Teams

cartoons on 5 tips for more effective remote teams

Leaders often need to make a case for the effectiveness of their team’s remote work, especially during the ongoing debate of remote work vs office productivity. As a remote team of eight years and still going strong, we’ve noted our top five tips for fostering efficiency within a virtual work environment. 

1. Bring Your Team Into the Solution

Involve your team in deciding how to come together, collaborate, and solve problems to strengthen the relationship between employees and key decision-makers. Open discussion builds trust, and teams will feel more confident knowing they have a say in their work environment. When collaborative solutions are not a priority, this can lead to poor workplace sentiment and higher attrition rates. 

For example, in the scenario of deciding as a team whether to work remotely, hybrid, or in person, the conclusion should look different for every company, striking a balance between team and business needs. 

Aside from conducting international business, other reasons that the ICAgile team moved to a remote working model include removing limitations on the talent pool and improving work-life balance–and our CEO attests to remote work contributing to employee happiness and retention. 

2. Adopt Agile Habits

Adopting an agile mindset encourages us to incorporate habits that meet the holistic needs of individual workers and their teams. Agile practices that support innovative remote work environments include but are not limited to facilitation, self-organizing teams, collaboration, feedback loops, iterative checkpoints, and a commitment to growth for continuous improvement. 

Virtual collaboration tools are essential to ensuring optimal touchpoints between remote team members. Slack, Gmail, and Zoom provide a strong foundation for communication, while kanban-style project management tools like Jira keep everyone on the same page. Visual collaboration tools like Mural can also be beneficial, allowing teams to host brainstorms and present in more engaging virtual spaces. 

3. Create a Culture of Aligned Autonomy & Trust

cartoon of people working with autonomy

The traditional approach to management attempts to control a team’s actions; however, it’s a culture of aligned autonomy and trust that will contribute to improved productivity, confidence, and retention rates. As work continues to move online, leaders are learning the most effective ways to manage remote teams–and it’s a far cry from micromanaging. 

One key learning in my journey at ICAgile is the ruthless prioritization of outcomes over outputs. Within the marketing team, our manager doesn’t over-emphasize the team’s day-to-day tasks but trusts us to complete our agreed-upon work within the agreed-upon timeframe. Instead, we are held accountable by analyzing the metrics of our collective efforts to get a clear picture of how our projects contribute to current goals and objectives. 

4. Offer Growth Plans

Many people enjoy planning trips or fun activities to look forward to throughout the year, and the same concept applies to our professional careers. Employees who seize career growth opportunities may find more excitement in working toward milestones, obtaining new skills, and improving their financial well-being. 

For instance, ICAgile team members are given the option of working toward promotions, as coordinated with their team lead. Additionally, we are provided with a stipend for continuing education to develop our skills for current and future opportunities. Embracing the growth mindset requires a certain level of self-challenge, which is encouraged from all aspects within our remote team. 

5. Establish a Value-Driven HR Structure

cartoon about creating core values

An effective remote workplace starts with the hiring process. In a recent article offering corporate recruitment recommendations for agile teams, we discuss the vital role that organizational values play in the interview process. 

Defining team behaviors and core values enables intentional hiring. ICAgile has a list of core behaviors that we are encouraged to embrace, such as teamwork and practicing a growth mindset. The clearly defined workplace behaviors provide the context interviewers need to identify candidates most aligned with the existing culture, promoting retention and positive long-term outcomes. 


While the return-to-office mandates aren't always preventable, the tips in this article provide a starting point for boosting efficiency and results within teams that still maintain remote work privileges. 

Do you want to streamline your team’s operations with agile ways of working, but don’t know where to start? Consider earning the ICAgile Business Agility Foundations certification, providing leaders with the knowledge they need to build a plan of action for agile implementation within their organization.

We look forward to meeting you in class soon!

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About the author

Emily May | ICAgile, Marketing Specialist
Emily May is a Marketing Specialist at ICAgile, where she helps educate learners on their agile journey through content. With an eclectic background in communications supporting small business marketing efforts, she hopes to inspire readers to initiate more empathy, productivity, and creativity in the workplace for improved internal and external outcomes.