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Steve Mollman

On Thursday, Lyft’s new CEO laid off over 1,000 employees. On Friday he ordered remaining ones back to the office

(Credit: Courtesy of Lyft)

A substantial number of employees have grown accustomed to working from home in recent years, but CEOs are increasingly issuing return-to-office mandates. Lyft is the latest example, but what makes its mandate notable is its timing. 

One day after new CEO David Risher laid off more than 1,000 employees, or about 26% of its corporate workforce, he told remaining workers they must head back to the office. The one-two punch may help the ride-sharing company avoid the problem of employees not taking such mandates seriously

Just a year ago, Lyft announced it was “now a fully flexible workplace,” boasting on its blog that employees would “have the choice of where to live and where to work.” They could “work from the office, at home, or any combination of the two,” it added.

No longer. Risher, who assumed the helm on April 17, will require workers to come in Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, with Tuesdays recommended, beginning after Labor Day, he told the New York Times, adding that he saw the moment as an opportunity to have a “cultural reset.”

In February, Lyft announced projected earnings that fell well short of estimates, leading to the biggest single-day drop in its stock price in the company’s history. Compared with rival Uber, it has struggled to reach pre-pandemic levels of ridership among its users. 

“At some point, I don’t think of this as just an Uber battle,” Risher told MarketWatch in late March. “It’s a battle against staying at home. How do we get people out? How do we get them playing and working together?”

He was referring to customers, but it seems he wants employees staying home less and working together more, as well. 

Many remote workers, however, believe working from home is just fine and are not eager to return to pre-pandemic office and commuting routines. In a Pew Research survey published last month, 56% of respondents said working from home helps them get work done and meet deadlines, while 37% said it neither helps nor hurts.

Risher isn’t the only boss taking aim at remote work. With the pandemic in the rearview mirror, many CEOs have been demanding that remote employees spend more time in the office, among them Bob Iger at Disney, Robert Thomson at News Corp., and Howard Schultz at Starbucks.

One CEO, James Clarke of digital marketing firm Clearlink, worried aloud to staff that some remote employees might secretly be working for other companies, and that others could be freeing up time with A.I. tools that Clearlink wasn’t fully utilizing. 

Meanwhile Sam Zell, a real estate magnate known for his colorful language, called remote work “a bunch of bullshit” at a luncheon in New York last week, adding, “Young people need to develop their skills, and you can’t develop those skills if you’re not in the office.”

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