Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is annoyed employees didn’t listen to his back-to-office request—and now he’s ordering a return

Starbucks interim CEO Howard Schultz is annoyed that workers aren’t in the office.

On Wednesday, the coffee company announced that employees who live within commuting distance of its offices would have to go to work three days a week. The policy is slated to take effect on Jan. 30.

Starbucks is asking workers near its corporate headquarters in Seattle to go to the office three days a week: Tuesday, Wednesday, and a third day to be decided by individual teams. Employees living near regional headquarters are also expected to commute three times a week, though the company said local managers could decide the best days to bring people back.

Starbucks did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

A ‘privilege

In a post on the Starbucks website, Schultz said that working from home had hurt the company’s culture. He argued that Starbucks used “rituals,” like “coffee tastings” and “storytellings,” to build a sense of camaraderie among employees, and that returning to the office would “revive and reinvent” such exercises.

Schultz also wrote that remote work had “unintended consequences,” fearing that the coffee company was “losing the art of collaboration,” as well as “a connection to a shared mission, something bigger.”

But the Starbucks CEO also betrayed annoyance that employees had ignored an earlier request to come back to the office. Schultz wrote that “each of us made a promise to each other to be in the office between one to two days a week” in a shift to hybrid work last year. Yet he added that, according to badge swipes, “it’s clear that a good number of SSC partners are not meeting their minimum promise.” (Starbucks calls its employees “partners,” and its headquarters the “Starbucks Support Center,” or “SSC.”)

Throughout his memo, Schultz called the ability to work remotely a “privilege,” one not shared by those working in the company’s stores, plants, and distribution centers. The CEO made clear that the new office mandate was a “requirement.”

‘I’ll get on my knees’

The Starbucks CEO has never been a fan of remote work. At a New York Times conference last June, Schultz complained that workers were not in the office as much as he wanted. “I’ve pleaded with them. I said, ‘I’ll get on my knees. I’ll do push-ups. Whatever you want,’” he noted at the time.

Since then, more companies have expanded their return-to-office mandates. Apple, Meta, Google, Goldman Sachs, and Disney are all pushing workers to come back to the office for most of the working week.

Economic motives are also providing an impetus to get workers back at their desks, with some tech companies asking workers to return to the office in the face of a slowdown in the sector. Both Snap and Salesforce said they would ask employees to return to the office following slow revenue growth.

Starbucks, by comparison, appears to be weathering the current economic uncertainty. In November, the coffee company reported a 9% increase in global sales for the 2022 fiscal year. Strong sales growth in the U.S. offset a decline in international sales, particularly in China, where COVID outbreaks caused a 24% drop in store sales.

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