Getting Staff Back to the Office
The commute is one of the major reasons that staff don't want to come back into the office. The average UK office worker spends 59 minutes commuting each day! Furthermore, over half of commuters say they "hate" the commute.
Many companies are keen to get their staff back to the office to improve their culture, communication, and collaboration. However, such benefits are hard to quantify, and your people may not understand the full value of them. As many companies have shown, issuing a return-to-the-office mandate is ineffective. It also causes serious backlash. You need to attract, not force, your people back to the office.
One of the key parts of attracting your staff back to the office is overcoming the resistance to the commute. You can do this by creating a workspace so good that it makes the commute worth the effort - a workspace worth the commute. Staff will accept the inconvenience of coming into the office, because of the experiences they have as they are in your workspace.
We've spent the last 3 years helping dozens of companies create offices that attract their people back into the office. In this article, we'll share 5 of our most important considerations when helping companies like yours create a workspace worth the commute. By the end of this article, you'll be able to assess your workspace to see if it is worth the commute for your staff. If it's not, you'll know what you need to do about it.
According to research by the Harvard Business Review, 85% of employees would be motivated to go into the office to rebuild team bonds. A further 84% of employees would be motivated to go into the office if they could socialize with coworkers. If all your office has is individual workstations and corporate meeting rooms, then they won't see the value of attending the office.
You can facilitate team building and socialisation in your office by ensuring you have a dedicated, breakout space(s) in your office. This needs to be a dedicated breakout area separate from collaboration spaces. It should include food & drink facilities, as well as soft seating. Depending on the size of your office and the needs of your staff, this should take up about 5-5% of your total office space.
A space such as this will help your staff relax, and build social connections. This will not only improve their wellbeing but will also have a knock-on effect on staff performance. If staff know each other and function better as a team, then their performance will improve.
Another major reason many staff are reluctant to come into the office is that over time, many staff have invested in a home office, set up exactly as they want it - from the technology to the furniture to the decoration. If your office is an inflexible design that doesn’t allow staff to personalise their workspace, then they will be reluctant to come into the office. They have much less control over the space, meaning they can't adapt it to suit their needs and preferences. As a result, their performance will not be as good as it could be.
To resolve this, you can design your office so that your people can customise their workspace. Studies have shown this leads to a 10-15% increase in job satisfaction. Allowing customisation in your office doesn’t always mean allowing staff to have personal items on their desks, though it may include this. It's about recognising your staff all have different requirements of their workspace, and designing your office so that they can adapt the space to suit their needs.
The most important part of this is ensuring your office has a variety of different work environments for their different roles and tasks. You can also allow staff to adapt the space itself using modular furniture that can be reconfigured. Movable partitions even allow your people to change the size of the room as per their needs. To learn more about how to create a space your staff can make their own, read this article.
If all your office contains is rows and rows of desks with a few conference rooms, staff won't see the purpose of attending the office in person. They can get an individual desk at home and do meetings virtually, with no drop-off in performance, and they save the hassle and expense of commuting. If your office is like this, they are likely right - there is little productivity benefit to attending such an office. This kind of space will be a bland and ineffective environment that doesn’t get the best from your staff.
To create an office worth the commute, you need to include a variety of environments. There are 4 main kinds of space you need in your office: collaborative, semi-collaborative, focussed, and breakout. Collaboration spaces are informal areas designed for working together in teams. Semi-collaborative spaces are also designed for team working, as well as allowing individual work when required. Focussed spaces are for solo deep work, free from distractions. Breakout spaces are retreat areas, designed for staff to relax and socialise.
Ensuring your office has plenty of variety will give your staff options, allowing them to work in the type of environment that best suits the task on hand. As a result, your office will provide something remote working can't, helping make your office worth the commute.
To attract your staff back to the office, you have to do more than make it less inconvenient for them. You have to create an environment and an experience that they cannot get working from home. As a result, they will consider your space worth the inconvenience and expense of the commute.
To do this, you may need to include several workspace amenities in your office. These are facilities and benefits associated with attending the office that encourage staff to attend the office. This is not about including fashionable but irrelevant perks. These amenities need to be valued by your staff, as well as having a real business benefit.
Several such benefits are becoming popular in our office design schemes. In-house gym and fitness facilities eliminate costs for staff, while also improving their health and wellbeing - indirectly improving their performance. Offering free refreshments will help eliminate one of the major costs staff associate with attending the office - food. Focussing on healthy options will also allow you to improve staff nutrition. Again, this will have a knock-on effect on staff performance. By adding well-designed, impactful amenities, you can create an experience that staff can't get at home, helping you create a space worth the commute.
Improving the Commute
Another important part of creating an office worth the commute is making the commute itself less unpleasant for your people. You might not think it's your responsibility, but it is a good value way to help get your staff back to the office. One option would be to subsidise commuting costs for your staff. You could also look at incentivising and facilitating active travel by installing bike racks and showers.
Another option would be to consider hybrid working options. Staff could work 2 or 3 days in the office to reduce the cost and time of commuting. This would allow them to spend time on focussed work at home, while still getting most of the benefits of home working. Alternatively, you could allow them to change their working hours so they could commute at off-peak times. Implementing such schemes will show your people that you are committed to getting your people back to the office, and are considering their needs.
Making Your Office Worth the Commute
The commute is one of the major reasons why staff are reluctant to return to the office. If you want to get your people back to the office, then overcoming this stumbling block of your staff is crucial. There are 3 crucial parts to this: making the commute less unpleasant, making the workspace itself better, and creating a workspace experience they can't get remotely.
We've shared with you the 5 most important considerations from our process when helping companies like yours create a workspace worth the commute. Now you know these, you're able to assess your workspace to see if it is worth the commute for your staff. If not, you know what you need to do about it.
To learn more about getting your staff back to the office, read How to Plan Your Return to The Office and How to Get Your People Back to The Office Without Harming Talent Attraction & Retention.
For the full breakdown of returning to the workspace, download your 10 Steps to Return to The Office Guide. There, we'll walk you through the 10-step process we use to help our clients get their staff back to the office. This will cover everything, from deciding if you should return and why, all the way through the different stages of planning and implementation. Download your Return to The Office Guide here.