Forget Free Coffee. What Matters Is if Workers Feel Returning Is Worth It.

Sarida Scott, an assistant professor of architecture and department director at the University of Detroit Mercy, said she was excited to be back in person because she had a new position and “teaching virtually is just not the same.” But after developing a pandemic habit of working out every morning, she has made sure not to lose it.

For Brenda Twehues in Lafayette, Calif., returning to the office half of the week — as she is expected to — also means returning to an hourlong commute each way. So her manager doesn’t demand a strict number of days in the office from her, and, in turn, she is flexible with the people who report to her.

But employees who felt that their jobs could be done just as well from home, or who returned to empty or noncollaborative offices, told us they resented being back.

For those workers, being in person didn’t justify all that they had to give up — time to meditate or go for runs, walking their children to school or taking care of relatives. They described being at the office as a bureaucratic requirement that wasn’t worth all the hassle and expense.

Kristie Rogers, a management professor at Marquette University, researches respect at work and said that, during moments of change like this one, people were acutely aware of what was happening around them and how they were being treated. This puts pressure on bosses, she said.

Managers should fully explain to their employees why they want them back in the office, and bring them into the process of figuring it out, she said.

“If you are navigating a hybrid work arrangement, it’s critical for employees to understand that there is real value in being together,” said Dr. Rogers, who now teaches both in person and remotely, and works on research mostly from home. “If we don’t all see that value, people are going to feel slighted; they are going to feel misunderstood.”