Going Back to The Office
With the pandemic’s impact on our daily lives receding, our lives have become more normal. One change that has remained, however, is remote working. As a manager, you may well have had several attempts to increase your office attendance in recent years. You are concerned about the lack of connection between employees, the declining culture, and the difficulties of remote innovation. However, your staff don’t share your enthusiasm for the office. So how do you attract your people back to your office?
As an office design and fit out company, this is a question we frequently get asked. Each company is unique, so our response is never the same. Having said that, there are a few common themes. Although we are an office fit out company, this article is not to persuade you that you need all your staff in the office all the time. It’s to help you understand what is best for your company, and then how to implement that.
Why is the Return to the Office Controversial?
To make an informed decision about your working model, you first need to consider why your people may not want to return to the office, and why you are keen for them to do so. The way people (want to) work has changed significantly over the last 3 years. Lockdowns made staff rethink their work-life balance, and question whether they need to go into the office at all, or at least every day. Over the last 2 years, employees have had more control over the situation, due to the shortage of talent. However, a potential recession has brought this more into balance.
One of the most popular reasons for people not wanting to return to the office is the commute. For staff, it is time-consuming, unpleasant, and expensive. The office has to be worth the commute. Some employees still have health concerns, and prefer to avoid crowded spaces. This is a valid concern and deserves respect. All staff should feel completely safe in your office. Many people also feel they have much more control over their workspace when at home, as well as when and how they work.
So why are so many managers and companies keen for their staff to get back to the office as much as possible? The most important reason is culture. 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.” Your workspace has a major impact on 3 of the 9 components of company culture – communication, wellbeing, and environment. It's much easier to build culture when your people are together, hence managers are keen to get staff back into the physical office.
Collaboration is another key reason. Knowing your colleagues well makes teamwork and collaboration much easier. In the early stages of lockdown, teams were already well-formed, so virtual communication was sufficient. However, as time has gone on and team members have changed, that connection is lost. It's very difficult to build connection virtually, so teams have to operate with little to none. This is far less productive.
Engagement is also a major concern for managers. Employee engagement is the level to which your people are intellectually and emotionally invested in your company’s success. Having staff immersed in an on-brand workspace surrounded by colleagues increases their connection to the company. Engaged employees are 50% more productive than satisfied workers, so it’s easy to see why managers are keen to improve staff engagement in any way they can.
Consider Your Working Model
So how are companies supposed to reconcile these conflicting viewpoints? They are not as conflicting as they may at first seem. The first step is to choose the working model that is right for your company and people. You can then go about implementing it in the most effective way possible.
The remote vs office vs hybrid decision is about much more than where your staff sit. It involves:
Each option for your working model comes with different advantages and disadvantages for each of these factors. Remote working provides access to a much larger talent pool than either of the other options. Remote working also suits an independent and stable workforce, because they are able to use autonomy effectively. It can also be a good option for companies needing to reduce their costs.
In-office working is best for companies that require close collaboration and rely on a strong culture. The constant interpersonal contact of this model helps build a sense of culture and community. Having everyone on site also makes collaboration a lot better, as in-person collaboration is more effective than remote or hybrid sessions. It is also the best option for companies with very specific technical requirements, such as trading floors.
Hybrid working is the best model for most companies. It manages to capture most of the benefits whilst avoiding many negatives. Hybrid working is also excellent for productivity. Staff are able to complete focussed work with fewer distractions, and then come into the office to collaborate. The balance of this model is also best for wellbeing and engagement. Staff have increased autonomy and flexibility, which is crucial to the personal wellbeing of staff.
Deciding on your working model is a complicated decision with major consequences. It's important that you consider what is right for your company and people. You should also consult with a variety of stakeholders. To learn more about the different working models, and their respective advantages and disadvantages, download our guide: Office vs Remote vs Hybrid Working – Which is Best for My Company?
Communicate the Why
Once you have decided on your working model, you have to plan the transition, communicate it to your people, and then implement it. Communication is essential, as poor communication can derail the best plan. This could create a lot of opposition among your staff, which would be very damaging to your company's performance.
When communicating the change to your people, you have to go further than just explaining the “what”. First, you must explain the “why”. If you can demonstrate to your people there is a clear business case for your decision and that you have listened to their viewpoint, you will encounter much less resistance. Communicating in this way will increase the trust of your people, They will be more understanding of the change, even if it is not their preferred option.
Focus on Culture
73% of workers say they need a better reason than company expectations to return to the office. To attract your staff back to the office, you have to make it worth their while. The key to this is their colleagues. According to the Harvard Business Review, 85% of employees would be motivated to go into the office to rebuild team bonds. 84% of employees would be motivated to go into the office if they could socialize with coworkers.
As a result, your office and working model have to emphasise connection and collaboration when in the office. If you expect staff to work at a desk all day in the office because you want them to, you will encounter a lot of backlash. Collaboration and connection are both essential for productivity anyway. Top performers spend 45% of their time collaborating. Positive social connections at work improve wellbeing and reduce stress.
Adapt your Workspace
Another crucial part of making your staff come back to the office is the office itself. If all your office has to offer is long rows of desks and soulless boardrooms, staff will not see any point in coming to the office. If staff want to come back to the office to rebuild team bonds and connect with co-workers, your office design needs to encourage this.
This is especially true if you’re operating a hybrid working model. Many staff find home working more productive for focussed tasks, due to the lack of distractions. However, remote teamwork can be awkward or difficult, so it is much better done in your office. This means your office needs to include plenty of collaboration space. Your office should also be an environment your people love and one that embodies your brand. When your people are immersed in this sort of environment, they will produce work that is much more in line with your culture.
Getting Your Staff Back to the Office
Attracting your staff back to the office first requires careful consideration as to when and why they need to come back to the office at all. You then need to communicate clearly and transparently about what will be changing and why. You should also listen to and consider the viewpoints of your staff. To really make your transition back to the office work though, you have to make your staff want to come back. The best ways to do this are by focussing on team connections and providing a workspace experience that they just can’t get at home.
Want to learn more about creating a great workspace? Read our article explaining how to create the right office for your company. There, you’ll learn about the 4 essential steps that you can take to make sure you create the office that your company needs.
Want help getting your staff back to the office? We’d love to help. As expert workplace consultants, we’ve helped many companies plan their transition back to the office, and created a workspace to facilitate that. We collect measurable and cultural insights into your office space and your people. The results enable you to make intelligent data-informed decisions, helping you to streamline costs whilst increasing company and staff performance. Our service is scalable to meet your requirements, timescales and budget. We can help you ensure a smarter, optimised workspace with more productive people. Reach out to one of our workspace experts today.