Tips To Get People Back To The Office
In recent years, we have had to learn many new habits, some of which have been embraced. Not being able to go to the office and working from home is one of them. Now that we can go back to the office, companies notice employees do not always want to go back to the old ways of working. You may have set up a "return to the office" (RTO) policy, but the result is not forthcoming… The burning question therefore is; “how to get people back to the office”? Before we give you practical tips, we first need to get to the root of the problem. This is key when trying to find the best solution. Let’s go!
Why do you want employees to go back to the office?
You have opened up your office, and thought everybody would be happy to return? However, the return to the office feels like a big failure. Why? Your employees prefer to stay home... It is completely understandable that this situation is difficult and frustrating to you as an employer. You may have all kinds of worries running through your mind. For example, how will this impact our company culture? And how can people still work efficiently with their colleagues if they all work remotely?
Do you wonder how employees can feel connected to the company, if they only work from home? Besides that, it is hard to know how people are really feeling when you do not see them. The same goes for the level of engagement and creativity at work. Or how to handle the onboarding of new employees remotely? We get it! You want your employees in the office, at least a few days a week or month. This way you can build up or work further on a strong company culture and bonding between employees.
Another major reason for you to want your staff back in the office is to increase collaboration. Employees that work on projects together and in-person make for better and stronger collaboration. Ideas can be shared freely to foster new innovations when you're seeing each other face to face. When working remotely, the barrier to getting new ideas together can feel greater, for example because you have to draft an email or host an online meeting instead of being able to walk straight to your colleague.
Why do your employees feel resistant to the idea of returning to the office?
The pandemic has had a huge impact on how employees think about working 100% of their time from the office. Many of them prefer a hybrid work model where they can do both office and remote work. It is worth mentioning that there are several reasons that explain why employees are not so keen on coming back to the office:
To avoid commute time
The best thing about working from home for employees is that they avoid commuting. With working from home, you are not in a hurry anymore and it saves you a lot of time in the morning and evening. Time you can use for personal activities instead.
To have a better work-life balance
This reason coincides with the previous one. By working from home you save a lot of time, time that you can invest in, for example, picking up your children from school or having lunch together. You can also exercise before or after work or deal with house chores such as laundry in the meantime.
Some people simply work better and are more focused when working from home. There are fewer distractions. Employees don’t have to worry about noise or being interrupted by colleagues who want to chat or ask you questions. Although socializing in the office is being missed whilst working from home fully, it also keeps you from getting tasks done.
Different expectations between employer and employee
There seems to be an inconsistency between what employers think employees want and what employees actually want. For example; 60% of office workers who said they prefer hybrid work because of the social part indicate that they are not always getting the interactions with colleagues they’d hoped for. This can be the case because, for instance, the team members you would like to see are not in the office on the same day as you. This makes commuting to the office feel an unfortunate waste of time.
Besides that employers and employees seem to have different understandings of what the office is for. After two years of working remotely, everyone has developed their own expectations of how to spend their time. As more and more employees return to the office, it becomes apparent that their work experience has deteriorated. It’s harder for them to concentrate, their stress levels are higher whilst commuting and their level of job satisfaction seems to be lower.
Tips to get people back to the office
Now that we've gotten to the root of the problem and explained some of the discrepancies between employers and employees, it's time to highlight some tips and potential solutions that would help your company. In other words; how do you make it attractive for staff members to return to the office?
Listen to your employees
This tip may sound like an open door, yet it is more important than what people might think. You can encourage your staff members to return to the office by listening and acknowledging their feedback.
A large-scale survey from Future Forum highlights that 66% of business leaders were creating plans to return to the office after COVID-19 without any direct input from their employees. Without employees’ feedback, a company is more likely to make wrong assumptions and therefore waste time and money in the process. You may think you've found the right incentive to bring the workforce back, but it may be that you were wrong and the RTO initiative turned out to be unsuccessful because of that. You can easily prevent this by taking the time to survey your staff. The return to the office is mainly for them after all so might as well listen to them and make sure they are happy.
No “one size fits all”
The Future Forum survey also shows that leaders prefer to work from the office more than employees because of experience disparity. Parents will likely prefer a hybrid working model so they can spend more time with their children. Or a staff member who also studies part-time and needs to go to evening classes or needs time to study will lose a lot of crucial time due to commuting. Managers aren’t always aware of this experience disparity. Instead of blindly drafting a return to work plan, make sure to talk to your employees first and listen to what they have to say. You might be missing out and not seeing the bigger picture of what is important to them.
Microsoft leaders have shown themselves to be great listeners. Microsoft has over 160,000 employees worldwide. You can therefore say that it is quite a challenge to convert the traditional working model into a hybrid working model. However, they succeeded! How? By adopting a growth mindset and listening carefully to their employees. At Microsoft, employees are now allowed to work from home at least 50% of the time. Do you want to work from home more and does your manager agree? Then you can!
Guides have been drawn up to make their new hybrid working model as clear as possible for everyone. Microsoft employees have one called the Hybrid Workplace Flexibility Guide. In this guide, you will find sample team agreements, templates, and tools for hybrid work. The second guide is called Hybrid Work; A Guide for Business Leaders. This one wraps up much of what Microsoft has learned about how to reimagine people, places, and processes for a hybrid world.
Define the purpose of the office
Our second tip is one to sit down and rethink the purpose of the office. Should your office be the connecting factor between teams? Is it a meeting place? Is it a space where one can focus? Or a combination of all of this? When you have a clear idea of the purpose of your office, you can organize the space accordingly and communicate this to your staff.
A company that defined the “why” of their office is TomTom. They’ve created an activity-based working strategy in action called W@TT. The whole idea behind this strategy is that everything is possible: it’s all about choice and what works for the employee and their team. Whether that is collaboration, quiet or social time and face-to-face or online meetings. The offices are set up in such a way to match this strategy. They have been reformed into cool, uniquely designed spaces. Each of them has dedicated spaces where you can focus, collaborate and connect.
Give freedom and autonomy to your employees
Employees don’t want to be told when to go into the office according to Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford professor, who, along with other academics, has been conducting a large, ongoing study of remote workers called WFH Research. Autonomy in the workplace is of big importance since it increases an employee’s sense of job satisfaction, motivation, creativity and overall well-being. Employees that have abandoned their micromanaging ways in favor of autonomy and self-governance have found their employees to be more productive. Giving your employees the freedom to choose for themselves whether they work from home or the office is a great way to positively respond to their need for autonomy.
Spotify is a company that gives their employees flexibility and autonomy. Even before the pandemic started, Spotify was already thinking about reshaping their work model. They’ve always concluded that globalization and digitalisation were drivers for a more flexible workplace; better for both the company and their people. The pandemic has accelerated their process and they now have a Work From Anywhere policy.
The beliefs within this policy are; work isn’t something you come to the office for, it’s something you do. You cannot measure effectiveness by the number of hours people spend in an office. Giving your employees flexibility and autonomy will support better work-life balance and lastly, operating as a distributed organization will produce better and more efficient ways of working. Two important spearheads within Spotify's hybrid work model are:
1) My Work Mode - Their employees will be able to work full time from home, the office or a combination of the two. The decision can be taken together with their manager.
2) Location Choices - Employees also have more flexibility when it comes to what country and city they want to work from (with some limitations to address time zone difficulties, and regional entity laws). If an employee does not live close to a Spotify office, the company will support them with a coworking space subscription.
Use the art of nudging
Getting employees on board is perhaps the biggest challenge when implementing new ways of working. By using nudges, behavioral change becomes easier and more fun! The temptations stimulate different behavior in a positive way and based on the intrinsic motivation of the employees. This means you design options in such a way that influences the outcome, but it doesn’t restrict them. These so to say “choice architecture” - small design changes - have a big role to play in enabling informed decisions.
A nudge always has a number of fixed characteristics. For example: the nudge is not an obligation, but a choice. The character is always positive and adds something to the work environment, without changing anything. In the case of hybrid work, a good nudge can be to use a flex office software that shows when favorite colleagues are at the office. This social tie could inspire an employee to also go. Because the most important aspect for employees to go to the office is the social aspect.
Use incentives instead of consequences
Does prohibition help to get things done? At Ciao, we believe more in the principle; stimulate and motivate. That’s why our advice is to try to focus on giving incentives and offering benefits that make it more attractive for employees to return to the office. You could offer financial incentives such as a voucher or food coupons. Another good option could be to give your employees a regular travel allowance for expenses like gas or public transport. Because we all know one big benefit of working remotely is saving on these expenses! You could also give your employees a free lunch. A free (and fresh) lunch is a simple, yet very effective, incentive! This just might be the reason a staff member comes to the office that day. A company can also provide a way to respond to the current high inflation in which we find ourselves. Gas, electricity, groceries: everything is becoming more and more expensive. By going to the office, your employee saves on these costs.
Make the office attractive
Make your office as attractive as possible. Think about what kind of workplace amenities you can add to the physical workspace to make it more interesting to employees. Standing desks, a fitness room, a decked-out break room, better office chairs, better parking, a big table to all sit at for lunch with comfy chairs (and a freshly prepared lunch)… The possibilities are endless. And because every employee is happier and more productive in a clean, tidy environment, you should invest in maintaining the office to make it a place where people want to spend time. You may also want to consider adding plants and wall art to make the physical space a little more inviting. All the little things really add up!
Host social events
The most frequently cited reason for employees to go to the office is because of the social aspect. As an employer, you can easily address this. How? By organizing small or big social events every now and then. It can be fun and rewarding to interact with your colleagues and a social event in the workplace is the ideal way to accomplish this! Company events give us an additional reason to come into work. From games in the office, after work drinks in the favorite bar around the corner or a fun summer’s barbecue; they all encourage employees to work in the office that day.
Events can help employees bond with each other, connect departments, inspire positivity and improve employee happiness. Or as the Guardian wrote; “teamwork, social events and company culture are vital to happiness at work”.
Now it's your turn!
We are very curious; what tips will you apply to make it attractive for your staff to return to the office? Our advice; apply them all! We are happy to help you with our desk booking software to make it easier for you and your staff to go back to the office when it suits you. You can book a completely non-binding demo with us to try it out yourself first. If you have any questions, please feel free to let us know!