Tech Firm Tightens Reins on Flexible Work Policy in Latest Push To Get Employees Back

TikTok Deploys Return-to-Office Tracking App as Part of Latest Attendance Mandate

While companies across the country are ramping up efforts to get employees back to the office with mixed results, social media platform TikTok is trying a different approach: an attendance-tracking app.

The tech firm, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, introduced its MyRTO — or my return to office — app this month. It’s part of TikTok’s latest mandate requiring its U.S. workforce to commute to a physical office at least three times a week starting next month, with some workers expected for a full five-day workweek.

The Los Angeles-based company employs about 7,000 people in the United States and told them that “any deliberate and consistent disregard may result in disciplinary action” that could “impact on performance reviews,” according to a TikTok memo obtained by The New York Times.

Zoom, Symbol of Remote Work, Reflects US Office Use Shift in Calling Its Employees Back to Workplace

The MyRTO app monitors badge swipes in an aim to monitor the company’s attendance policy. Employees that aren’t commuting to the office as frequently as required will need to explain their “deviations,” or absences on a mandated in-person day, the Times reported.

The strategy is meant to set expectations for in-office attendance, a TikTok spokesperson told CoStar News.

Both the development and deployment of the app is one of the most aggressive tactics the company has taken so far in getting its workforce back to a physical office. TikTok — which leases space in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Austin, Texas — at first tried to entice employees to work from an office by providing a daily $45 lunch stipend that could only be accessed through an app after an employee swiped into a company workspace.

Other perks included reimbursements for services such as Wi-Fi and gym bills.

TikTok dumped many of its pandemic-era bonuses shortly after unveiling its return-to-office policy in July 2022. The initial policy required employees be in an office a minimum of two days per week, even though they were encouraged to come in more frequently. Workers were given about a month to relocate closer to a corporate hub, if necessary.

Cracking Down

Similar to other tech companies such as Google, Amazon, Meta and Apple, however, TikTok appears to be ditching the enticement approach in favor of a more assertive one as employees continue to push back on in-person mandates.

Within the past several months, companies from Goldman Sachs to Snapchat have clamped down on in-person work requirements that are now viewed as being linked with a company’s strong financial performance.

Full-time remote workers were found to be 18% less productive than their counterparts in the office, according to research from economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Los Angeles.

To be clear, many tech companies are holding on to some remote work policies that provide employees with a level of flexibility that didn’t exist before the pandemic. Even so, after leading the way as some of the early adopters of remote work, companies are contending with a softer economy, challenges involved in managing a dispersed workforce and the cost of maintaining real estate portfolios that can have significant portions going empty at some points in the work week.

Despite the escalated mandates, office occupancy remains stubbornly stuck below 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels in major metropolitan areas around the country, according to data tracked by Kastle Systems in its office security systems.

What’s more, softening demand has pushed the national office vacancy rate up even higher, according to a CoStar analysis. The broad adoption of hybrid work has solidified a lower level of space required by tenants on a per-employee basis, and office vacancy rates have continued to climb through the year to reach a record of more than 13% nationally.

Tenants have collectively dumped more than 47 million square feet of space since the start of the year, according to the data, pushing total occupancy rates to the lowest level seen since 2017 even though office-using employment has jumped by about 12%.

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