The Return to the Office
One of the most pressing questions facing business leaders as they look toward the next year is their workspace model. Should I ask (or force) staff back to the office? Should we stay remote? Is there a viable compromise?
For many employees, remote work has been a great opportunity to re-assess their priorities in life. The lack of commute, office politics, and routine were liberating. It improved their wellbeing and gave them time to grow personally. For others, the lack of routine has made maintaining work-life balance difficult, and the lack of collaboration with colleagues has affected their performance and mental wellbeing. It has been a long and lonely wait to get back to the office.
In reality, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The needs of your company, staff, and clients are all unique, so your workspace plan needs to be unique too. By considering how your people work and interact together, you can build up a picture of what your return-to-work programme should look like as well as how to implement it.
So what can you do to ensure your return-to-work programme is the success you need it to be?
For your people to be supportive of your return-to-work programme, they have to know and understand the reasons behind it, as well as what it means for them. The first part of this is to communicate why you are returning to the office. If innovation is suffering in distributed teams, let them know that. If productivity needs to improve, say so and explain why returning to the office will help. If you are clear and transparent with your reasons rather than giving opaque and arbitrary commands, your people will be much more engaged and supportive.
As well as why, it is also essential to communicate how your return-to-work programme will work. If you are phasing your staff back in to reduce disruption, let them know how this will work and make sure everyone understands what is expected of them. It will likely have been a long time since your people have been in the office, so reducing uncertainty as much as possible will make your people feel much more comfortable.
It is paramount that your staff not only are safe, but feel so. Many staff may be nervous about increased contact and commuting. Taking the time to understand their concerns and ensure they are safe will make them feel supported in a difficult time for them. While physical health is often the key topic around returning to work, the mental health of your staff is no less important. This will likely be a huge change to their daily lives, and your people may be nervous about the effects of such change on their mental health. For staff who have joined the company recently and had little interaction with colleagues, this is even more important.
Establishing and communicating your safety protocols for your office is a must to make sure your people understand what is expected of them and how they are being kept safe. However, adopting too rigorous processes must be avoided, as they are not sustainable. They will soon drop off, leaving your workplace vulnerable. Consulting with your people and experts to create balanced processes and then ensuring they are adhered to is the best approach.
While the success of remote working is nuanced, it is very popular with employees. Going forward, 85% of staff want the option to work from home some or all the time. Companies that have implemented arbitrary return-to-work programmes have faced strong resistance from employees. This has reduced engagement and created a host of HR issues.
To avoid this, companies have been adopting a variety of working models to increase the flexibility available to their people. The most popular of these models is hybrid working. Hybrid working is a mix of office-based and remote working, across different days. Hub-and-Spoke comprises a central core office space with multiple smaller locations nearer to where your people live, trying to reduce the commute and combine the benefits of in-office and remote working.
Imposing your own preference for full-time in-office work may backfire, causing severe resistance and many staff to leave. Listening to the requests of your people and adopting a working model that balances your needs with that of your people will ensure their own wellbeing and engagement, which is crucial to your long-term performance.
Culture may be an overused buzzword, but there is no denying its importance to staff and company performance. As former IBM CEO, Louis Gerstner Jr said: “Culture isn't just one aspect of the game, it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.” Culture isn't always dependent on location, but having your people in the same space will make building and maintaining a great culture much easier.
Many organisations have been aware of their culture drifting off course throughout the last 18 months. People have spent less time together and new staff have joined without ever meeting colleagues. Bringing your staff back to the office is also a great opportunity to re-evaluate your company culture. Going forward, how can you ensure your staff are living your values and vision?
Improve the Office
The final and most obvious element of attracting your staff back to the office is to make your office design more attractive. In the age of hybrid and remote working, it may seem as though the physical office matters less than before. However, the office has an essential role to play in the future of successful companies. By making the office a more attractive working environment than their home, rather than trying to force them back, your people will be more willing to return.
A huge side effect of the hybrid working revolution is that the way employees use the office has completely changed. Staff can work on individual tasks at home without distractions. The office is now transitioning to a collaborative hub to bring your people together. To maximise the potential of their workspace and workforce, companies must question long-held assumptions and conventions about your office design needs. Rather than following the herd, you need to focus on the desired end result and re-think how to get there.
Returning to Your Office
While remote working seemed a huge success initially, time has shown that the reality is much more nuanced. Remote working may be great for focussed work and increased autonomy, but such isolation has several drawbacks. Over time, social capital has waned as staff have been deprived of the opportunity to connect with each other personally. The high level of staff turnover has made this much worse. On the other hand, employees have quickly come to expect remote working and regard the office as an unwanted burden. However, the office is far better for culture and innovation, 2 ingredients essential to the long-term success of your company.
Want to know more about planning your return to the office? Covid-19 has changed the way we work and in turn, how our workspaces will be used, meaning workplace consultancy is more important than ever in ensuring you make informed workplace strategy decisions. Our process helps you understand your office and your people. The results enable you to make intelligent data-informed decisions, helping you to streamline costs whilst increasing employee engagement and wellbeing. Book a call with one of our workspace consultants today to discuss your requirements.
If you want to know more about how your workspace is likely to change in the future, then download our future office guide. Months of working (and living) in a remote working experiment have fundamentally changed the way we think about work and the future of our workplaces. The sudden and dramatic shift caused employers and employees alike to question the purpose and even the existence of the office. As we move into an uncertain and exciting future, it is clear that the way we work has changed completely. Discover why and how your office will change in the future, and how to prepare for it.