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Jane Thier

Last year, Lyft was ‘fully flexible.’ Now, its new CEO demands an office return

(Credit: Courtesy of Lyft)

Four months ago, David Risher became CEO of ride-sharing giant Lyft at a crucial juncture. He was, as the Wall Street Journal put it, up against “eroding market share, a sliding stock price, and low employee morale.” In his second week as CEO, Risher initiated over 1,000 layoffs, more than a quarter of its workforce—a move that aimed to address the first two concerns, but hardly improved the last one. 

One thing he thinks might move the needle on employee morale, however, is a partial return to the office, which he said would become mandatory for the workers who remained. 

“I’m in the office about pretty much five days a week now,” Risher told Fortune in an interview last week. “Part of that is because I’m so new at my job—this is day 120, [or] something like that. For me, it’s really important both to see people face-to-face just to build a relationship, but also [to] bump into people that I wouldn’t bump into on Google Meet or Zoom.” 

This hasn’t always been Lyft’s approach. In March 2022, the company announced it was becoming a “fully flexible workplace,” and would lease out nearly half its office space to other businesses. This was back when cofounder Logan Green was still at the helm; he spent 11 years as CEO before handing the reins to Risher. Now, Risher has initiated a reversal, and, like many other tech giants, he’s pegging Labor Day weekend as the deadline. 

Risher told Fortune that September will be “official return-to-office time” for Lyft employees. “It’s going to be super fun, I hope,” he said. “We’re looking at three days a week being the mandatory rhythm, and then two days a week, you can either work remotely or work from the office.”

As CEO, Risher intends to lead by example, working primarily from the office. “Sometimes I’ll work from home—that’s cool, too,” he added. “Obviously I do some traveling and so forth, but when I’m in town, I’m mostly in the office.”

Sharing rides and office space

Sizable time in the office—at least three days—is critical, Risher thinks. (A good amount of data backs him up, though most workers are still reluctant to return to an office against their will, especially if they believe they’re just as productive at home.) Lyft’s purpose is “getting people out of their house and together to work, to play, to see friends, to go to the doctor’s, to get to the airport, whatever it might be. That’s what we do,” he said. “We spend so much of our lives in this digital world. And we’re kind of the interface between that digital world and the physical world where so much of the good stuff happens.”

To fully grasp that responsibility, and to better understand Lyft customers’ pain points, workers must be together, he said, collaborating and bouncing ideas off one another in person. “So much of satisfaction at work comes from this almost physical feeling of side by side, you know, solving problems together at the whiteboard, and then having lunch with each other, having fun, getting to know each other’s kids’ names and what you’d like to do after work, and so forth,” Risher said. 

He also thinks there’s merit to eavesdropping on other people’s conversations and problem-solving at the office, and learning by osmosis. “Much of the way that we develop—as workers and as society members—is through that physical interaction,” he said. “We’re not trying to re-create 2019; it’s not five days a week.” That’s certainly a good thing; as has been proven at other companies, workers often refuse to comply with outlandish return-to-office demands, even if they’re being threatened. 

Just because he insists upon in-person work doesn’t mean he’s intransigent. Risher said he’s amenable to flexible hours, which are hugely popular among workers. “If you want to come in at six o’clock, that’s fine. Or if you want to come in at nine o’clock, 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock in the morning, that’s fine. We don’t really care about any of that stuff. We’re just much more excited about the idea of periodically and regularly bringing people together.”

Risher is especially serious about new workforce entrants and young employees gathering in-person regularly. “When people first come in, we’re literally calling it homecoming,” he said, adding that he hopes to re-create the feeling of the first day at a new school. “We're going to give tours and have community groups [like book clubs] where people can get together and talk about things that have nothing to do with work.” These kinds of programs will, ideally, provide a “sense of community to work beyond just the basics of a keyboard, a mouse, and a monitor.”

As for whether it’s successful, Risher will have to wait and see how full Lyft’s offices are come September.

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