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Starbucks wants corporate staff to return to the office

Noting that in-store workers don’t have the privilege to work from home, Interim CEO Howard Schultz said employees need to come into the office three days a week.
starbucks corporate staff
Starbucks is requiring workers to come into the office three days per week. / Photograph: Shutterstock.

Starbucks on Wednesday told its corporate employees they need to come into the office three days a week starting Jan. 30, a policy change designed to show more solidarity with in-store workers who do not have that privilege.

Interim CEO Howard Schultz shared the policy change in a letter on Wednesday. He noted that workers within commuting distance of the company’s support center will need to come in Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with the third day determined by team leaders.

The company said it would still honor those employees who work fully digitally and will continue to hire all-digital roles “as appropriate.”

“It’s time for us to come back to the office, to do this mission-critical work face-to-face, and in person,” Schultz wrote. “It’s time we rebuild and revive the energy of the [Starbucks support center, or SSC] and our regional offices as thriving, active hubs.”

The company moved to a “hybrid” model last year, in which workers agreed to come into the office one or two days per week. But, Schultz said, “from our badging data, it’s clear that a good number of SSC partners are not meeting their minimum promise of one day a week.”

He said three days per week is a “requirement, and we expect every partner to respect it like we do every other workplace policy.”

Corporate staff across the country began working from home in 2020 as a result of the pandemic and many have yet to return nearly three years later, as companies adjusted to a more digital workforce and employees realized the benefits of telecommuting. Many employees of all kinds took the opportunity to move far from corporate hubs.

The result has turned corporate offices into ghost towns. It has also put pressure on employers, many of whom value the kind of collaboration that can come when employees work together in person. Many companies also pay enormous expenses to maintain corporate offices that go unused.

But the work-from-home lifestyle at a restaurant company stands in direct contrast to their frontline workers who have been required to come into the restaurants every day and interact with hundreds of customers. “They had to keep coming into their workplace—our stores, our plants, our distribution centers—day after day,” Schultz wrote.

And Starbucks is working to overhaul its store operations and make things simpler. Schultz believes that requires more in-person meetings and collaboration.

In-store workers “are asking support partners to be better integrated, showing up as one team, working to be not just a little better but profoundly better,” Schultz said. “They are asking us to do transformative work that I believe can only be done effectively when we are physically together, the kind of thinking, daring collaboration, courageous conversations that cannot be done on Teams calls or in just pre-scheduled meetings, or just as transactions.”

Schultz said that the move is being done to preserve the company’s culture, which “depends on rituals” such as coffee tastings, storytelling or simply putting design work “up on a wall.” He also said it’s fairer to the in-store workers. And he said there are “unintended consequences that have emerged from conducting so much work virtually.”

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