Returning to the Office
Are you keen to increase the amount of time your people spend together in your office? Have you tried to encourage them back to the office, only to be met with stubborn resistance? As a CEO or business executive, you understand the importance of people being together. It is helpful to improve your culture, innovation, and productivity. However, you’re unsure exactly how to overcome the resistance of your people.
As many companies have found, trying to force staff back to the office often ends in disaster. Many of your best staff leave, and all are disgruntled. As a result, their productivity is much lower, and your culture nosedives. Understanding and addressing the reasons why your people are so reluctant is crucial to making a successful return to the office. You have to attract, not force, your people back to the office.
In this article, we’ll go through the 5 main reasons your people might be reluctant to return to the office, and how you can resolve them. By the end of this article, you’ll have a much better understanding of how you can increase office attendance at your company.
The commute is the main reason why many staff are reluctant to return to the office. In fact, less time spent commuting is the main reason why hybrid working is so popular. The average London office worker's commute lasts 47 minutes each way. They also spend £3,210 annually on commuting fares. Before the pandemic, staff accepted this as unavoidable. However, remote working has shown the commute is no longer a necessity. This has been complicated even further by many staff moving to more remote rural locations, further away from your office.
To overcome this, you have to enable your people to make the commute less unpleasant. You could do this by allowing more flexibility in their work schedules. For example, you could allow them to start and finish earlier or later – working the same amount of time, but avoiding peak rush hours.
Even if you do this, however, your people may still be reluctant to return to the office – even part-time. This is because your office may not be any better than their home. In an age when the commute is no longer the default, your office has to be worth the commute. It has to be substantially better than and different from what they can get at home. This means leaning into the role of the office as a collaboration hub, and providing purpose-built collaboration spaces. These will help your people work together more effectively in person than they could from home. Your office should also be a space that brings your brand to life, helping you to rebuild your culture.
The short-term success of the forced switch to remote working surprised almost everyone. One of the key reasons for this was the improved work-life balance that staff enjoyed. Freed from the restrictive 9-5 and the frustrating commute, they found life a lot more enjoyable. Remote working has since proven to be unviable in the long term for many companies. However, staff are reluctant to give up the wellbeing gains they saw.
Again, offering staff flexibility is crucial to overcoming this issue. You could allow your staff to continue working from home 1 or 2 days a week, or office working hours flexibility. You could even look at implementing a 4-day week. Read more about that here. You could also look at software that allows staff to schedule in-office days in teams. This would avoid having to mandate in-office days, which reduce flexibility.
One of the key reasons executives are keen to get staff back into the office is to rebuild culture. This is shared by staff – 87% of workers say they would return to the office to rebuild connections with colleagues. However, too much socialisation can become very distracting. 33% of employees cite chatty colleagues as a deterrent for returning to the office. Remote working has made many staff prone to distractions, as they are unused to working in a busy environment. Distracting coworkers could reduce the productivity of staff, and reduce overall output.
To resolve this, you will need to ensure that your office has distinct environments. These should include collaboration, breakout, and focussed working areas. This will help ensure socialisation remains in the breakout area, and work-focused teamwork happens in your collaboration space. A designated focussed working space for individual tasks will also enable your people to work without distractions when they want. Again, hybrid working could also help by allowing your staff some time at home to focus on individual tasks.
Productivity has been one of the most contentious parts of the remote working debate. There are a lot of conflicting statistics and opinions on which environment is best for productivity. Many studies have shown that staff feel more productive at home. This is unsurprising. With fewer distractions, they can make better progress through their tasks. However, communication and collaboration are much more difficult remotely. This will have a damaging impact on productivity that will be hard to notice. Research by productivity tracker apps has shown remote and in-office work to be equal for long-term productivity.
If your staff are hesitant to return to the office because they feel they are more productive at home, first look at the data. Is your output per staff member higher or lower than it was 4 years ago? Most companies have seen a 3-6% drop in productivity since 2019, but you should assess your own situation. You can also improve this by adapting your office so that it helps your people be as productive as possible. Read more about How to Maximise Staff Productivity with Office Design here.
The final major reason many staff are not keen to come back to the office is the poor technology many of them expect. When working at home, staff have much more control over their technology. They are reluctant to return to an office with worse technology than they have at home, which will limit their performance.
The resolution to this is simple: ensure your workspace technology is better than what your people have at home. Fast and secure wifi is absolutely essential, as wired data connections tie your people to a desk all day every day. You should also have BYOD docking stations and screens that enable your staff to work from anywhere in your office.
Hybrid meeting suites are also important so that in-office staff can work effectively with staff who are not on-site. A resource-booking system that allows staff to book desks, meeting rooms, pods and other areas will also improve their office technology experience.
Attracting Your Staff Back to the Office
When considering why your people may not want to return to the office, it's important to consider the difference in the way you work. As a CEO, much more of your working day is spent communicating and collaborating rather than working on individual tasks. They will also be more focussed on personal performance rather than overall company performance. As a result, your perspective on returning to the office will be different to that of your people.
To overcome the reluctance of your people to return to the office, you need to provide a working model that suits their lives. This means providing more flexibility to make the commute less unpleasant, and fits around their lives better. Crucially, you need to provide a workspace experience that is better than what they can get at home. A workspace that suits the way they work both individually and as a team, and helps them, and you, to be more successful.
We hope you now have a much better understanding of why your people are reluctant to return to the office. You should also have several ideas about how you could resolve those concerns to increase office attendance at your company. To learn more about the 5 essential steps making your return to the office a success, read how to attract your people back to your office.