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Don’t Call it a Layoff…

Using “Return to Work” as a sneaky way to cut staff

Zoom and AT&T—two companies that absolutely made bank when the pandemic forced people to work remotely—are now forcing employees to come back into the office. Were this just for the sake of the work and collaboration, I wouldn’t have any problem with it. In fact, it would make me a hypocrite.

But baked into the irony of two telecommunications companies requiring their employees to get off the video conference and come into the office is something more nefarious.

Prior to the pandemic, AT&T had 350 offices in use. They’re now consolidating to 9! For thousands (60,000!) of those told they can no longer work remotely, their “home office” is no longer an option. That means they either have to move to Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, one of two locations in New Jersey, San Ramon, Seattle, or St. Louis—or they’re out of a job.

Similarly, Zoom is now telling employees that they have to be in the office two days a week. Which, again, is ironic for a company that went from 1,700 employees in 2019 to 8,500 employees in 2023, all on the back of remote work.

You’ve entered… The Spin Zone™!

There’s a really simple reason for this irony. Forcing remote employees back into the office means they can get rid of a ton of employees without saying the word, “layoff.”

The story goes from “AT&T is laying off 9,000 people,” to “AT&T is requiring employees to come back to the office. Those who didn’t move have made the choice to no longer work here.”

That’s some leveled up spin—even from a company that refers to “layoffs” as “surpluses.”

It’s all PR, baby. And it will probably work.