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4 Tips for a Successful Return to the Office

February 02, 2022 Digital Workplace
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

Despite the popularity and success of remote work, many expect companies to ultimately adopt a hybrid work model once the pandemic has subsided. This means many businesses are now busy planning what their potential return to the office will look like. 

The reality is many employees enjoyed working remotely, choosing to travel to different locations and preferring to maintain flexible schedules. Some are even willing to give up a portion of their salary to achieve that. According to data from video conferencing company Owl Labs, nearly half of workers surveyed said they would be willing to take a five percent pay cut to continue working remotely at least part time. 

Given the appeal of remote work and the continued scarcity of talent, business leaders stand to gain from forming a strategy that suits employee wants and needs rather than forcing a return to the office or particular work model. Here are some ways organizations can tackle what the future of work will look for them and their workforce.

Enticing Employees Back to the Office

When companies were forced to pivot to a remote work model in 2020 as a consequence of the pandemic, they might not have expected to like it as much as they did.

“I think in-office work has its benefits, but I have also been able to see the positives of remote work once the pandemic hit,” said Yazan Sehwail, CEO and co-founder of Userpilot, a San Francisco-based software company. 

With increased productivity, less commute and a host of other benefits, remote work can seem like a great work model. This makes it even more difficult for organizations to entice employees back to the office. To avoid a mass exodus, Sehwail suggested sharing plans with employees and emphasizing areas for growth. Those plans should include expectations and opportunities, as well as what their role will be when they come back.

By having a sound, logical transition plan back to office life, leaders can help employees understand and even embrace the prospect of being back in the office.

Related Article: Is the Hybrid Work Model a Half Measure?

Start Small and at the Top

Even with a sensible plan, returning to the office will present challenges. The pace at which employees return should be top of mind. Sehwail said it's often best to start with smaller groups.

“Get the highest level of employees who have been working remotely to come back to the office," he said. Having division managers come into the office can be a great starting point and motivator for other employees. 

Considering most companies haven't had their workforce united in one physical location in nearly two years, a return to the office can be a major event. Leaders can make the most of it by turning it into a celebration.

“Get people excited by hosting a special talk or event the first day back,” said Mikaela Kiner, founder and CEO of HR consulting firm Reverb. Having everyone gathered together also provides a great opportunity for open forums, which can serve to address questions and concerns about the transition. 

Related Article: How to Create a Successful Hybrid Work Model

4 Ways to Make the Return to the Office a Smooth Process

The transition to remote work happened suddenly, but it wasn’t an overnight occurrence. It took time, significant investment and consideration and accommodation by companies to make it work. Similarly, organizations should develop a strategy to ensure a smooth and efficient return to the office.

Here are four areas to consider:

1. Compromise

In a tight labor market, businesses must often compromise with employees about their work arrangements, including how, when and where the work is conducted. In this case, leaders should try to clarify and illustrate what a return to the office means for the company.

Most employees seek a work-life balance that minimizes stress and their risk of burnout. Remote work afforded that comfort to them, so many will want to continue to spend at least a portion of their time working from home. Companies that have the greatest chance of winning the talent war will likely be those willing to meet in the middle.

“Enabling employees to feel more at home in the office will help them feel more comfortable about returning to work," said Daniel Tejada, chief learning officer at boutique marketing agency Straight Up Growth. "Workers today have a higher expectation of what the office environment should be.”

2. Gather Input

Another important step in returning to the office is gathering input from team members. Whether this means taking a survey, conducting interviews or receiving suggestions, the people who will be returning to the office are in the best position to provide input about what they will need to make this transition a success. That comes with one caveat.

“Much like ever-evolving customer needs, employee needs are constantly changing too," said Tejada. It’s therefore essential to monitor how employees use the reimagined workspace, and make adjustments where needed. 

Related Article: The Myth of the Hybrid Office

3. Personalize the Experience

Employees returning to the office should not deter organizations from focusing on the employee experience. Employee experience was front and center during remote work, and it will continue to matter a great deal.

To provide a great employee experience, leaders may want to consider individual situations and preferences to provide employees with what they want and need once they are back in the office. 

4. Limit Health Concerns

Health and safety is a primary concern for both employers and employees. According to Kiner, this means employers need to plan the return carefully and well in advance.

“Share lots of updates/reminders since the situation is fluid as COVID continues to evolve,” she said. This may mean sharing updates about what local health authorities recommend regarding working in an office, interacting with people and more. 

Going back to the office is a major process regardless of what stage a company is at and how willing employees are to return. However, by asking questions, sharing goals and rationale, and doing whatever possible to alleviate any concerns, companies can make sure the transition is as smooth and efficient as possible. 

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