How to encourage everyone back into the office
The buzz has died down in the media and there’s some assumption that you’ve managed to achieve what you want in terms of getting employees back in the office.
However, the more leaders I talk to, the more apparent it is becoming that we haven’t found our happy status quo yet.
There is definitely some tussling between leadership and employees about returning to the office and we’ve certainly not settled down into a hybrid model that leaves everyone feeling a win-win either.
Why is getting everyone back to the office important
Before you start to consider how you’re going to get everyone back, it’s important to first understand why you want them back. This will underpin your approach.
If you don’t understand why you truly want your employees back then you aren’t going to convince them of the benefits.
Take a look at the realities of how things were during remote working, and how they can be with people back in the office – at least some of the time – and consider:
Learning by osmosis
Development isn’t constrained to training courses. Much of an individual’s professional development actually happens by working alongside thought-leaders and inspiring individuals who drive productivity. This is particularly true for younger and more junior workers.
Again, not everything in the workplace happens in a structured way. Indeed, much doesn’t. Often the best ideas are from ‘water cooler’ moments – those times when a discussion sparks over coffee or a chance encounter at the photocopier.
These incidental opportunities can’t be manufactured with a remote workforce and they are the real gems which are being lost in this way of working.
Familiarity and shared experiences makes a team stronger. Again, this is incredibly hard to replicate with remote working. For cohesive teams they need to know each other and actively engage with one another.
Innovation is sparked from collaboration and collaboration isn’t happening to the same degree when computer screens divide people.
Company culture is fuelled by the daily interactions of everyone, and specifically the relationships between leadership and the workforce. Without the opportunities for this in practice, the company culture can become disjointed and fragmented.
This wasn’t a problem in the early days of working from home because everyone was still embedded in the existing culture, borne of daily life in the office. These unspoken rules and values are now fading.
There are many reasons why supporting the local economy in the area of the workplace could directly and indirectly benefit the business. This will be a harder argument to use when convincing employees of their value in the workplace however.
You need to also consider these points from the employee’s perspective too and not simply that of business need.
For employees that feel and know they have been innovative, efficient and productive at home, and enjoy what WFH brings to their life overall, you’ve got to see things from their perspective if you want to effect change. Not least there cannot be even a whiff of it being about lack of trust if they’ve proven (or believe they’ve proven) that not to be a valid argument.
It’s also vital that you consider a shift back to the office in terms of the individual’s autonomy.
Autonomy is actually one of the biggest drivers of satisfaction at work. And what have all WFH workers got more of? So, you need to think very carefully about how you take that away, ensuring there’s fundamentally no shift back to presenteeism.
Bear in mind that nearly 50% of professionals want to remain working from home in some form or other. That rises to 61% of the youngest workers.
Remember your own rhetoric from the early days of WFH. Did leadership imply or signal that remote working could be here to stay? Can you in anyway be perceived to be going back on your word? You were on the spot and figuring this out like everyone else, but try to be honest as it will help you find a solution.
So, with all of this in mind, what can you actually do?
How to bring people back to the office positively
Whatever approach you take it needs to focus on being safe, engaging and motivating for your employees. You can select a range of different strategies:
The value proposition
Have you explained to employees why you need them back, using the relevant arguments from the list above? Do they understand why coming to work on a physical site is important? Have you highlighted to them the benefits to the workplace culture and to them as individuals of being together?
Show care and concern
It’s very easy with remote working for the employer to become faceless. You need to give it a human side again. Employees need to believe that the drive for getting them back into the office primarily comes from a place of care rather than coercion. To do this you need to make them feel understood and acknowledge their personal experience.
Find out what it is they like about working remotely and consider how this won’t be lost by bringing them back. Thank them personally for their input over the last 18 months. Ask for their suggestions about what would make returning more attractive to them.
Focus on productivity and efficiency
One of the biggest things I’m seeing come up as a reason why office work isn’t attractive is the amount of time ‘wasted’. Time has become an even more precious commodity to everyone over the last 18 months. They need to know that productivity will be valued over hours worked, and that efficiency within the office can be improved.
If you’re setting forth with hybrid working, take charge. It’s easy to think that in the name of flexibility everyone can do what they want as long as they work enough office hours. However, then you miss many of the benefits of office working that you want back. Teams must be in together, for example. This also ensures there’s no unconscious bias.
Some of the simplest strategies I’ve seen have been to increase the onsite training opportunities in bitesize chunks. Make the training really valuable and personally worthwhile. This gets people onsite and back into the practice of working in the office again.
Taking care to protect equality, actively construct a wonderful working environment. Have onsite opportunities that fit your culture, whether that’s an office book club or Friday afternoon drinks.
Offer things like gym membership to the gym on the same road. Provide free lunches.
Recognise that it may well take time and gradual shifts. Involve your employees and you’ll keep them loyal and engaged, and gradually get them back where you need them. Lead by example, and you’ll get there.