woman working in the far corner of an empty large office

Why Your Return-to-the-Office Directives Fail — And What to Do About It

November 02, 2022 Sponsored Article
Tim Harnett
By Tim Harnett LinkedIn

Plenty of statistics these days surround ambitious return-to-the-office plans from companies large and small. Yet while leadership frequently celebrates these plans, they often face resistance from many members of the workforce, from workers hired remotely during the pandemic to those who simply prefer the freedom and flexibility of remote work.

To achieve business results, companies need engaged workers, productive and invested in their work no matter where they are. If employees feel more engaged out of the office, companies should try to accommodate that as best they can — after all, research shows that engaged workers are more productive than their peers. Too often, companies that are ordering employees back to the office aren’t taking worker needs into account. What, specifically, are they missing?

Mistake 1: Not Optimizing the Office for Collaboration

Let’s face it: people enjoy working together. Humans are social creatures, and want to work alongside their peers on challenging projects. Colleagues are cited as one of the top reasons workers want to work onsite. At face value, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get people back into the office. After all, people want to work with their peers 

And yet.

Why the disconnect? Too often, it comes from trying to entice workers back to spaces that haven’t been optimized for collaboration and feel no different from the home offices they’ve become accustomed to. Office work needs to be more purposeful than it has been in the past and offices need to be optimized to allow employees to collaborate in ways they can’t at home.

Achieving their goal of a mostly hybrid or fully in-person workforce will take reimagining the office into something that’s worthy of the commute. If workers can see who else is in the office and easily be able to interact with their peers (with specific spaces that make collaboration easy), they’ll want to come into the office more often. 

User-friendly office design is crucial, especially when things like office hoteling and hotdesking are becoming more frequent. According to research, 64% of organizations expect more activity-based work seating arrangements at their offices. When it comes to reconceptualizing the office to meet current needs, organizations want options like more flexible working spaces and shared meeting places, which can help build a stronger workplace community. If the office layout is more purposeful and technology tools make room or desk booking a snap, employees might find it more desirable to collaborate in person.

Related: 3 Ways Workplace Management Technology Can Help Measure & Optimize Today’s Spaces

Mistake 2: Neglecting Culture 

Look, work cultures survived the COVID-19 pandemic just fine. What’s more, they evolved, as workers adapted to remote work. And culture will survive in this age of hybrid working too — but only if leaders nurture it.

These days, the digital workplace is now a crucial part of work and one of the main ways workers connect and collaborate with one another. Having a strong culture where employees can collaborate and communicate easily plays a big role in seeing improved digital workplace outcomes.

Culture plays a big part in furthering a sense of workplace community — where employees feel connected to the mission and values of the places they work. Developing culture and ensuring employees identify with the mission starts with strong leadership communication. If employees don’t trust their leaders to be open and honest in communications, they’re less likely to want to return to the office or believe in its importance.

Related: Fostering Community in a Hybrid Work Environment to Retain and Attract Talent

Mistake 3: Not Taking the Time

Steering workplace culture toward a strong sense of community through onsite, offsite and hybrid work will take work — perhaps more work than leaders are used to putting in around culture. Culture used to evolve organically (since people were always in the office at the same time), but that’s no longer the case. Building a community will take awareness of schedules as well as the right tools to ensure teams can communicate and collaborate while off site just as easily as they could onsite. 

Outcomes like better communication and collaboration together with a strong workplace culture will only come about from having a robust digital workplace strategy — one that is purpose-built for today’s hybrid workplace. Here too, companies can’t afford to ignore the importance of strategy. Companies without a mature strategy face a host of productivity challenges. According to research, two top challenges for companies without a well-defined strategy are having a disconnected workforce and suffering from a lack of cross-departmental collaboration. To address these challenges in part, many are prioritizing “culture and change” as part of their efforts to improve the digital workplace. Is your company one of them?

Related: 4 Ways to Create a Realistic & Engaging Hybrid Work Strategy

Conclusion

“The most important employee amenity in the return to the office…is other employees.”  — Lenny Beaudoin, Executive Managing Director, CBRE Workplace Strategy

It’s all well and good to attempt a return to normal after the events of the past several years. But companies need to realize that what’s normal has changed. Employees are used to collaborating more over digital channels. If leaders want to entice workers back to the office, they need to rethink what that office looks like. Tools designed to improve employee communication and collaboration while in the office will transform the office into a more purposeful space — not just a rehash of the home office with better coffee.

Learn how inspace can help develop community at your workplace at inspace.app.

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