Stephanie Mauney

3 min read

Human Resources

Getting Workers to Return to the Office

One of the hottest topics in today’s conversation about company culture and hiring is the ever so dreaded, return to the office. Employers seem to be faced with the impossible. 

Over the last two and a half years companies have overcome the unprecedented and been forced to reconcile the future of their workforce. Many continuously pushed back return to office dates as the Covid-19 pandemic stretched longer than most of us imagined was possible until they ultimately chose to transfer their companies to remote offices permanently. 

The ‘return to the office’ conversation has spiked high emotions amongst leaders, employees, and those searching for work. One only must turn to a quick Twitter or LinkedIn search to find a few viral posts encouraging workers to stand strong in their remote work convictions. 

This post from Adam Grant inspired by a recent episode of his podcast, “WorkLife with Adam Grant”, received nearly 135,000 LinkedIn reactions and over 9,500 shares:

You don’t need people in the office every day. The evidence is clear: hybrid work boosts productivity, creativity, well-being, & retention. Great collaborations don’t involve constant contact. They alternate between deep work and bursts of interaction.

In an email to his employees, Elon Musk wrote passionately about requiring Tesla workers to return the office with a 40 hour in office minimum citing the need for corporate employees to be held to the same standard as his manufacturing units.  Public response fell on a spectrum somewhere between understandingly sympathetic and complete outrage. It seems evident that opinions vary widely across the workforce.

With such broadly diverse perspectives, it may be difficult for employers to navigate the right return to work rhetoric and requirements. Those with the flexibility to offer fully remote or hybrid opportunities now suddenly have a competitive edge in the hiring market. Employers wanting to require employees back in the office are up against a challenging reality. 

According to this year’s “People at Work 2022: A Global Workforce View” report from ADP Research Institute, “Two thirds (64%) of the workforce would consider looking for a new job if they were required to return to the office full time.” This begs the question; how can employers encourage a return to work without outrage and losing over half of the workforce? What makes a return to office requirement smooth and widely accepted? The answer is complicated.

No return-to-work requirement at this point following the pandemic is going to be without its losses. There are bound to be those who simply are not ready to let go of remote life and will consider other employers. But there are ways to incentivize employees and create a positive conversation within an organization. Communication and posture are everything. Making hasty demands will not likely be taken well.

Here’s a few suggestions to employers ready to bring employees back to the office: 

  1. Empathy is key. Be careful to listen to employees and their needs post pandemic. Their world was uprooted, and needs have likely changed since they last commuted to work everyday for a 9-5. Consider putting out a company survey about how the organization can meet their needs as a return to the office occurs. 
  2. Is a change in work environment needed? Does the physical workspace need an upgrade? Some employers are changing their physical environments to make the workspace more enticing to employees. Employees are no longer keen on the bland, windowless, cubicle environment. How can the physical workspace be altered to accommodate them? Designs including open spaces, plants, welcoming art, amenities, and good lights go a long way in improving making a workplace appear more welcoming.
  3. Flexibility could entice employees to get behind a return to office plan.  Is offering flexible hours an option for the workplace? Can a more casual workplace dress code be allowed? Are there additional benefits like an Employee Assistance Program, childcare relief, or commuting allowances that could be offered? 
  4. Is a hybrid model a possibility for the employees? Perhaps, even allowing Fridays from home could be the key to showing goodwill from organization leaders. Many companies have found success in creating a compromise by allowing employees to keep some work from home days. Those roll out of bed, grab the coffee, and throw on a work shirt mornings have become treasured in the minds of employees. Even one remaining at home day may be the flexibility needed to keep employees happy with a return to the office.

Other ideas include a transportation reimbursement, free food, company sponsored pet walkers, or even moving to a 4 day workweek. Whatever you decide to do, its clear the new way of work will require more creative solutions to get them to come back.

Stephanie Mauney is a freelance writer and content curator specializing in Human Resources 

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