When Covid-19 was at its peak in 2020, the government shutdown caused many businesses to transition to remote work. Initially, we were told that these mandates would be in place for two weeks. Over two years later many companies still have a large number of their staff working from home even though required safety protocols and shutdowns have been removed for quite some time. Many employers have begun to lobby for a return to the office. But there has been major pushback from employees. How can companies get employees excited to return, instead of requiring them to?
Why Organizations Want Employees to Return to the Office
Before we explore ways to get employees excited to return to the office, let’s first look at why employers want them back in the first place. Executives cite everything from a loss of company culture to a decrease in creativity. But for many, it comes down to a basic need for socialization. And for others, a need to have more control over, and visibility of their teams.
But here is the disconnect, top-level executives want employees to come back to the office, and wish to return to the office themselves. Employees don’t. The Future Forum surveyed more than 10,000 workers globally and the results highlight this. 75% of executives want to be in the office three to five days out of the week. But only around 30% of employees feel the same. Additionally, about half of execs would actually prefer to work from the office every day, with less than 20% of employees agreeing.
“Forcing employees back into nonflexible work arrangements could leave organizations vulnerable to talent being actively poached by employers that offer the kind of flexibility employees have come to expect during the pandemic.” – Brian Kropp, Chief of HR Research, Gartner
So how can we reconcile these two seemingly opposing positions? Start by thinking about the benefits of being in the office, and how to get employees to choose to come to work. Mandatory return to the office plans and inflexible scheduled days aren’t working. In fact, they are resulting in many top employees finding roles within organizations that support a more flexible schedule and have work-from-home options. So instead, focus on small changes that might get employees excited to return to the office.
The Upside of Working from the Office
The first benefit is collaboration. And no, zoom meetings don’t cut it. This doesn’t just mean working on projects in teams or having meetings. It means walking down the hall to ask a question instead of sending an email and waiting hours for a response. Or talking about a company problem in the breakroom and before you know it, solutions are being generated. It means getting stuck on a crucial piece of a project and being able to knock on your supervisor’s door for guidance. And perhaps most importantly, creating connections throught training, coaching, and mentoring. This has been one of the biggest breakdowns during our time of working from home.
Strengthening company culture is another benefit. It is often hard to get a sense of company culture when interacting with colleagues only virtually. And today’s employees care about culture. They want to work for a company that cares for more than just making profits. But much of culture is lost in a virtual setting.
When the office is actually your home, it is easy to let work spill over into your family life.
Work-life balance has been talked about with great frequency. In fact, many employees state that as a top reason for wanting to work hybrid or from home. But the issue may not be actually about balancing work and life but separating the two. When you work from the office, work ends when you leave the building. But when the office is your home, it is easy to let work spill over into your family life. Answering emails at dinner. Hopping back online to finish a project when you should be putting the kids to bed. Working in the office creates space between work and life.
There definitely are benefits to working in the office for employees. But these benefits might not be enough to make them choose to return to the office. Here are a few things that might help.
For many, working from home means staying in pajamas and a comfortable workspace on the couch. Employees don’t want to dress in suits and come to a cold stuffy office. Offices don’t need to embrace work-from-home level casual, but creating a sense of comfort in the office is important.
There are many flexible options to let employees customize what comfort means to them. For some, working in comfort may just mean including ergonomic furniture. While for others, lounge seating and footrests may fit the bill. No matter how it is implemented, there is no doubt that a comfortable work environment improves morale. And a happy office is one that employees will be more likely to return to.
Working from home created a great amount of flexibility for employees. In many industries, there were no mandated times that employees had to be working. The typically nine to five hours were not always the norm. This allowed workers to take their kids to the park in the middle of the day. Or wake up earlier to catch their child’s soccer game in the afternoon. The flexibility didn’t just benefit parents. It allowed for work to start later to get that morning workout in. Or for night owls to work later when they were at their best.
Relax the scheduling of in-office days to let employees continue to have the flexibility that working from home allowed.
Relax the scheduling of in-office days to let employees continue to have the flexibility that working from home allowed. But implement a calendar. The goal of this calendar is to create visibility to the where and when employees are working. This helps team members coordinate projects and allows managers and leaders to be in the office to interact with their teams.
If there are days that you really want employees to be in the office, schedule events that might entice them to return. Lunch and learns are a popular way to get employees into the office while learning a new skill or about a new initiative. Schedule events that are both fun and relevant to your business. If your business thrives on innovation implement an Innovation Day with much of the work hours dedicated to creative ideas. Or for a business that requires a high level of focus work, schedule quiet hours where workers know they can go to the office to do some deep thinking.
From Remote to Hybrid
Asking employees to go from working completely from home to five days in the office could cause quite a shock. Instead, decide on a hybrid model that works best for your industry. A majority of industries have jumped on this new working model. According to Forbes, 77% of organizations have adopted some sort of a hybrid working model, with an “at-will” hybrid policy being the most popular. This allows employees to still have the best of both worlds and the flexibility to choose what will work best for them on a particular day.
When it comes to hybrid work, Annette Reavis, the chief people officer at Envoy, recommends leaders go all in.
“Be a champion of hybrid work and in-person collaboration. The best experience any company can provide starts by gathering people together–two, three or four times a week–to collaborate, share and problem solve in person.”
Committing to a hybrid working model means ensuring the technology is available to prevent roadblocks. Whether that is issues connecting with remote workers, or problems getting the right people in the office on a specific day. Technology needs to be in place to create a successful hybrid environment. The right office design can also ensure that employees are able to collaborate freely no matter what size group is present on a particular day.
We have all felt the disconnect from our colleagues over the last few years. But for many, personal connections with coworkers are one of the main reasons employees want to come back to the office. To help create stronger bonds between team members, companies will implement company sports teams, regularly catered meals, or actual team bonding events. People are craving connections and since workers spend most of their waking hours working, ensure that they are spending that time with people they enjoy being around.
No matter what working model your company adopts, the office should always be the hub for collaboration and connection.
These connections shouldn’t just be within one department or with the team members that work most closely together. Create opportunities in your organization for networking as well. This might come in the form of strategically planned groups during events, or it could look like a coffee or lunch periodically scheduled integrating team members of different levels and job descriptions. These interactions help the whole team feel more connected and understand the bigger picture of work within the organization.
For many, working from home will always be a preference. For others, a hybrid schedule is best. But no matter what working model your company adopts, the office should always be the hub for collaboration and connection. Employees want to be in an office with a great environment. They want to work for a company with a thriving culture. And they want to have the flexibility to choose when and where they work. Create excitement around returning to the office, with events, connection, and of course food!
Create excitement in your office space with an innovative design from StrongProject.