“Don’t mess with us”: WebMD’s back to the office backfire

The company’s cringeworthy efforts to get remote workers back into the office have left employees feeling as sick as a dog.

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Helena Young
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Internet Brands, the company that owns major internet names like WebMD, has caused an upset after an internal video telling staff to give up remote working was published online.

Striking a balance between bizarre and blackmail, the full video sees CEO Bob Brisco warn employees who are working from home that he will be “more serious” about forcing them back to the office.

The film’s messaging has sparked backlash from employees, who are increasingly embracing flexible work models as a way to improve work-life balance.

WebMD’s messaging misfire

The full Internet Brands video, entitled “A Message From Company Leadership” was published on the firm’s public Vimeo channel earlier this month.

In classic corporate format, it features a variety of office stock images, workers laughing at meeting tables, and shots of panicky-dancing employees giving their best impressions of not being held at gunpoint.

Following the significant attention the video has received, the company has since published a new introduction defending its tone and style. “For the record, our return to office policy is a hybrid one,” the new line reads. “[And] corporate videos are corporate videos!”

Nonetheless, this latest attempt at crisis control does little to mitigate the video’s threatening subtext of ‘back to the office, or else’.

Far from displaying flexibility towards employee demands, Internet Brands’ HR team tells viewers, “your manager will be in touch shortly about how this will be implemented and tracked”, suggesting that employee attendance will be monitored and supervised.

“We aren’t asking or negotiating at this point. We’re informing,” Brisco adds, while posing in front of a green-screened office backdrop.

Office return: both sides refuse defeat

Internet Brands is not the first company to attempt a rewind on remote work policies. Salesforce and Amazon are among major companies that have also stepped up their return-to-office policies despite a backlash from some employees.

Last year, Google said it would start incorporating office attendance into performance reviews. Even Zoom, the company whose video conferencing software made WFH possible, has asked employees to come into work two days a week.

Despite their best efforts, employees have remained steadfast in their refusal to reintroduce the daily commute. As a result, 80% of employers reported they regret earlier return-to-office plans in an August survey.

Remote working to remain popular

Most firms have now accepted the inevitability of hybrid and remote work policies, in light of the damage to talent retention and employee morale their loss could wreak on the workforce.

Startups surveyed 546 business owners at the end of last year about their current and future workplace models. Based on the results, 66% of respondents plan to introduce flexible work in some format this year.

Tellingly, 14% of UK businesses plan to increase the number of days that their staff can work remotely next year, making it the clear favourite amongst business owners and their staff.

Just 6% of companies surveyed said they planned to require staff to come into the office more days per week. This puts WebMD in the minority and suggests that employers are easing off on the ferocity of last year’s return-to-office debate.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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