It was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek internal video acknowledging it was joining the long list of companies ending fully remote working. Instead, Internet Brands – the company that owns healthcare information site WebMD – has become the butt of its own joke after its awkward return to office call went viral.
In the two-minute long video, which was previously published on the Californian tech conglomerate’s Vimeo account before being pulled, Internet Brands CEO Bob Brisco chews out the “too big” number of employees still working remotely.
One particular highlight of the video includes the use of a stock image featuring a half-dressed white collar workers taking a video conferencing call in his boxers, while classic New Orleans song “Iko Iko” provides the soundtrack to another segment. Employees, however, seem less than amused by the stern underlying message.
WebMD Return to Office: “We're Not Asking, We're Informing”
While the original Vimeo post has been taken down by Internet Brands, this didn't happen before it was widely circulated on other social media platforms.
As first reported by Vice, the video specifically targets those employees who don’t visit the office at all. After the camera pans around to show empty desks and meeting rooms, Brisco says he's “getting serious” and isn't “asking or negotiating at this point” about a return to office, but rather “informing of how we need to work together going forward”.
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It's worth noting that, however ill-judged its video was, Internet Brands is still offering a hybrid working policy. It's not pushing a full, five-day return to office and in making flexible demands joins a number of other high-profile tech firms including Infosys, Roblox and Apple.
Internet Brands has also subsequently issued an updated video addressing the controversy surrounding its original HR fumble.
Update: WebMD's parent company has pulled the original video and replaced it with another one addressing the controversy up top.
Here is the original for posterity. pic.twitter.com/hNUNSyfbUj
— maxwell (@maxwellstrachan) January 11, 2024
Big Tech Remains Divided on Best Return to Office Strategy
Of the many firms mandating some kind of a return to pre-COVID office norms, some have taken a delicate return to office approach, including improving incentives like free coffee to lessen the blow and leading to the rise of the coffee badging trend.
Other have adopted a more hardline strategy amounting to “office or severance.” Brisco's stern warning would seem to fall into the latter category, especially as its take on the “Iko Iko” included the joint message of “We mean business” and “Don't mess with us.”
It’s still unclear as to which route is most effective in the long term, though our Impact of Technology in the Workplace report reveals that companies keeping at least an element of remote working boast higher levels of both productivity and job satisfaction.
Enforcing the Return to Office
In many ways, the ill-judged Internet Brands video sums up the struggle CEOs and business leaders have on their hands to convince employees to come back to a physical workplace.
The WebMD publisher may see a clear link between creativity, productivity, and office attendance, but it's clear not all employees agree.
The video also sees a senior HR representative noting that “your manager will be in touch shortly about how this will be implemented and tracked,” while employees themselves have joked they've seen “better acting by hostages in direct to DVD movies.”
Fortunately, if you get an unwanted return to office imposed on you, there are plenty of companies still moving forward with newer ways of working. Here's a look at some of the companies offering fully remote jobs right now.