Encouraging Employees to Return to the Office After the Pandemic

return to the office

During the pandemic, most offices shuttered their doors and employees worked from home using technology such as Microsoft Meet and Zoom. In fact, the market cap of Zoom soared during the pandemic by 300%. Now, companies face the challenge of encouraging employees to return to the office. This challenge is great considering we’re still mired in the Great Resignation, which makes it hard to hire new employees, and Gen Z just doesn’t see the need for a return to the office when they entered the workforce during the work-at-home orders and like it that way. They like working without needing to put on pants.

return to the office
Image courtesy of Economic Times

Why do you face challenges in getting employees to return to the office?

Many companies, especially those in the tech sector, espoused permanent work-from-home as the pandemic began to wind down. Interim data don’t support corporate commitment to a return to the office. For instance, productivity rose during the 2 years when workers worked from home. Yet, businesses feel the long-term impact of these work-from-home policies doesn’t support their continuation.

Some companies, such as Airbnb, kept that commitment but an increasing number of firms want their employees to return to the office, at least part-time, because they believe it strengthens their corporate culture, increased employee commitment to the firm, improves collaboration, and provides better control over what employees are doing with their hours at work. 

Many, but not all workers, really want to stay at home permanently. They cite less time and money spent on commuting, less stress, the ability to live in less expensive cities, and other factors as positives for working from home. Parents might appreciate the opportunity to be more involved in the day-to-day tasks involved in raising their kids. Other workers are happy to return to the office as they can avoid the distractions caused by others in the home, lack of technology to support working from home, and other factors that make the office more attractive. Still other workers want the flexibility provided by a hybrid model involving some combination of work environments. Hence, businesses have their work cut out in trying to convince workers to return to the office.

Return to the office strategies

Maybe, for whatever reason, you want the majority of your workers to return to the office at least part of each week. That might not seem unreasonable but you may face some serious pushback. Here are some strategies to help encourage workers back to the office that are working for other businesses.

Provide incentives

Rather than wielding a sharp stick, consider offering incentives to encourage workers back. And, before establishing your incentives, listen to feedback from employees so you create incentives that matter to them. A mother might appreciate working 2-3 days a week from home to reduce childcare costs while providing the ability to watch their children grow. Workers employed in cities with a high cost of living might prefer to work a week in the office and three weeks from home. At my daughter’s company, the HR manager moved from LA to Phoenix and pays for her own costs when traveling to LA once a month for face-to-face meetings. The company was able to negotiate a lower salary in exchange for cost savings, so they benefit from the arrangement as well. Listening to your employees allows you to offer the right incentives for your staff.

  • health and wellness options
  • improved catering options as more businesses offer meals and/or snacks at the office as a perk to employees
  • creating a better work environment including
    • a light and spacious workplace. No one wants to work in a dark and dingy environment as those spaces can have a negative impact on a person’s mental health. Life’s hard enough without having to contend with an environment that drags workers down! Employees want the opposite. They want to work in an office that’s light and spacious, with natural light, in particular, as an especially welcome option. If you can, put together an outdoor space at your office, too — workers love having the option to soak up some sunshine during the working day during lunch breaks or after work.
    • space to work. Many companies try to add plenty of thrills to their office in the hope that those thrills will entice workers. However, while adding meals or a place for workers to exercise are always welcome, they’re also expensive. Instead, focus on the basics needed to make the office work for employees such as office desking solutions that are right for your business. More than anything, workers want to have a stable, spacious desk and chair combination that allows them to work at their highest level without feeling uncomfortable. No one wants to sit on an old, uncomfortable chair all day! Consider adding standing-desk options, as well.
    • support social engagement. Employees come into the office primarily to work but they also come in to socialize with their coworkers, too. Indeed, the ability to interact with their coworkers is one of the main reasons why many workers preferred to return to the office after the coronavirus pandemic ended rather than continue working from home. Not only does this social aspect of work make employees happier and less stressed, but it also supports collaboration and provides other benefits to the organization. As such, you will benefit if you put together a space that gives your employees the chance to get to know one another; the proverbial water cooler. You might add a basketball hoop in an unused corner of your parking lot or just comfortable seating for employees to gather informally, such as the one below from Google.

      stress relief and collaboration
      Image courtesy of The Mirror
    • provide a space to unwind. Finally, employees increasingly look for businesses that offer a space to unwind and relax during the work day. Research continually shows that it’s not possible for a person to work all day without a break. And in fact, if workers are beginning to feel a little tired, then they should take a break to improve overall productivity. If you have a space in your office where they can do this, then you help your team to feel good from the beginning of the day right through to the end — and that benefits everyone.

Be flexible and open to changes

The 40-hour work week involving 5 days a week in the office didn’t come down from Mt. Sinai with Moses. Hence, you need a work schedule that works for your employees and that might mean something that similarly isn’t written in stone. If you have effective communication with your staff and offer transparency, you can work out the kinks in your work arrangement as they arise. For instance, one employee might work in the office 3 days a week but life intervenes and some weeks the days in the office change or they might only work in the office 2 days some weeks. A worker may need to work from home for an extended period of time to take care of a family member who needs more attention or a parent might prefer to come in early and leave early so they can provide after-school childcare.

The more you provide flexible work schedules to accommodate your staff, the lower your turnover, the higher their commitment to your firm, and the more productive they’ll be.

Ensure a safe work environment

The reason offices closed during the pandemic was to keep staff safe from the virus. In asking employees to return to the office, you must ensure they’re as safe as possible. That might mean installing better air handling equipment that provides filtration and faster circulation of the air to limit worker exposure in the case of an unidentified infected worker. You obviously need a policy for detecting and handling such infections, such as more sick time to allow infected workers the freedom to stay home until they test negative so they don’t feel like they need to work to pay their bills.

As someone fully vaccinated, I don’t think it’s asking too much to require vaccination or masking for all employees, but that’s just me.

Conclusion

As you ask workers to return to the office, consider these principles that worked well for other companies as you set your policies. Maintain two-way communication, be open, and flexible and you should be fine.

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