The Great Return – Tips for Bringing Employees Back to the Office

From: COVID-19

The Great Return – Tips for Bringing Employees Back to the Office

Everyday life looks and feels relatively similar to before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. As many Americans resume their normal activities, some organizations may wonder how to get employees to return to the office. Remote work offered a safe accommodation for employees during the height of the pandemic. While some organizations have adopted fully remote workplace models, others are moving forward with hybrid setups, requiring employees to work on-site a few days each week. Some organizations are facing a movement known as the “Great Return” as companies reopen in-person workplaces and require employees to come into the office. However, this return-to-work push may not be “great” for everyone. As employees get more comfortable working from the comfort of home, it’s proving challenging to entice them to return to their physical workplaces.

According to Resume Builder, 90% of  surveyed business leaders reported they will  require employees to return to the office for  at least part of the week in 2023, while 21%  said they would terminate workers who don’t  return.

Furthermore, of the companies that currently allow employees to work fully remote, 73% confirmed they will change their work location policies within the next six months. Such findings suggest that by midyear 2023, a growing number of businesses will require employees to come into the office more frequently.

While some employees are eager to return to their workplaces, many prefer being remote. In fact, a Gallup poll revealed that 60% of exclusively remote employees and 29% of hybrid workers would look for employment with other organizations if their employers decided not to offer opportunities to work remotely some or all of the time long term. These mixed feelings further illustrate the challenges organizations will face as they try to bring workers back on-site.

Whether it’s now or next year, many organizations are likely to consider ways to bring employees back to the office while attracting and retaining top talent. This article explores the benefits of having employees return to their workplaces and ways employers can entice them to do so.

Weighing the Benefits and Challenges

While remote work poses some benefits for employers,  such as reduced office expenses and operational costs,  there are also reasons why many organizations are looking to bring employees back on-site. Consider the following  advantages that on-site work may offer:

  • Greater sense of belonging—Belonging has been a buzzword lately for workplaces, but it’s for a good reason. Social belonging is a fundamental human need—one that naturally extends to the workplace. Remote team connections must be very intentional, while in-person connections seem to happen more frequently and authentically.
  • Better collaboration and relationship building— Co-workers can collaborate in real time to discuss and solve problems. After all, some problems are better solved when discussed face-to-face. While collaborating, teammates may also be working on building and strengthening professional
  • Stronger employee engagement—On-site workplaces often are more successful in motivating and engaging employees during the workday. This is because employees can motivate each other, boosting overall morale and workplace culture.
  • Fewer distractions from home—Family members, pets or household chores can distract remote workers. While an office can provide its own sets of distractions, many work environments can provide a focused space for workers, allowing them to have long periods of uninterrupted work.

Conversely, there are also significant challenges associated with having employees return to the office,  such as:

  • Increased real estate, equipment and energy costs—A fully furnished physical workspace paired with a lease can be costly. Aside from the initial cost of having the space, expenses can quickly add up to keep the lights on and refresh on-site supplies.
  • Less flexibility—When employees are expected to be working regular business hours on-site, they may lose the flexibility and autonomy they were used to with remote work.
  • Heightened workforce stress—Employees may experience increased pressure from managers or peers while working on-site. In turn, that can make employees feel stressed or anxious, decreasing their productivity and capacity to work.
  • More frequent distractions from co-workers—While team collaboration and relationship building happen more naturally in person, those conversations can quickly turn into further distractions for workers.

Remote, hybrid and on-site workplace models have both advantages and drawbacks, so it’s up to each organization to determine which arrangement works best and for what reasons. That information can help employers develop a plan to bring employees back on-site.

Facilitating the Great Return

After weighing the pros and cons of bringing employees back on-site, organizations may decide it’s best to get everyone—or simply more employees at a greater frequency—to return to the office. Next, employers should create a plan to ensure a smooth transition for employees.

As many employees have gotten comfortable with their way of working for the past two years, incentives can effectively encourage them to come back to their workplaces or other similar settings. Employers should consider the following strategies for facilitating a return to the office for employees:

  • Focus on continued flexibility. Remote workers—even those who once worked in an office—got used to greater flexibility during the pandemic. Employers can be intentional with ways to make sure some flexibility continues. Some employers are exploring a more casual dress code, offering four-day workweeks or only requiring employees to be on-site a few times a week on select days.
  • Cultivate a positive work environment. Building off the thought of recharging, many workers enjoy the autonomy and work-life balance of logging on for work at home. Successful employers will incorporate the favorite aspects of employees’ work from-home days—such as flexible hours, autonomy to get the job done and the freedom to recharge as needed—and carry them over into their physical workplaces.
  • Provide extra paid time off (PTO). Employers may also offer more PTO to workers who agree to work on-site. Time off allows workers to recharge and take care of themselves, which has been more in demand due to the pandemic.
  • Support working parents. Remote work offered many working parents the flexibility to not miss workdays when their children were ill or needed to come home from school early. Employers can review their family leave policies and ensure they continue to account for life’s unexpected scenarios. Child care stipends could also help cover the cost of sending kids not in school to day care. Larger organizations may even consider adding on-site child care services so employees only make one stop daily.
  • Update technology. Sometimes a work-from-home setup doesn’t cut it. Employers can invest in new on-site technology and tools that increase productivity and efficiency to entice employees to come into the office.
  • Offer commuter benefits. Many workers enjoyed getting time back in their days without their daily commutes, so commuter benefits could help offset the costs associated with traveling to the office. Commuter benefits could include qualified parking, transit passes and vanpooling.
  • Coordinate catered meals. Free food has always been an employee favorite in workplaces. Employers can arrange catered lunches or coordinate food trucks to feed on-site employees. Not only can food motivate employees to work on-site, but team or companywide lunch breaks are desirable to many.
  • Revamp workplace amenities. If many workers haven’t been on-site in a while, it might be worth reviewing current on-site amenities and thinking of ways to make them more appealing to employees. Employees are focused on their mental and physical well-being more than ever, so an on-site gym or occasional wellness classes may go a long way in winning over workers.

Facilitating a return to the office isn’t easy, but it can be done with thoughtful planning.

Getting Started With a Plan

Before starting return-to-work plans, employers need to read the room. Every worker and workplace are different, so organizations should start by discussing engagement options with employees to discover their preferences. This could be done through companywide surveys or casual findings from department leaders who know their teams well. A lot can be uncovered with authentic and open conversations. Similarly, managers should meet regularly with their direct reports to discuss what matters most to them in their roles.

Contact us for additional resources and return-to-work information.