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How to Plan Your Return to The Office

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

Getting Back to The Office

Many companies are looking to get their staff back to the office. As they consider their long-term HR and real estate strategies, they are concerned about low productivity, fragmented culture, and poor communication. However, given the much-publicised popularity of remote working with workers, they are unsure how to proceed.


Manager’s concerns about remote working are well-founded. Studies have found remote workers to be between 10 and 19% less productive. However, remote working is still incredibly popular with staff – 1 in 3 would quit if they were forced to go back to the office full time. 71% say they need a better reason to return to the office than company expectations.


When we speak to companies about their workspace needs, one of the most common issues is office attendance. They want to get their staff into the office more, but they’re not sure how. They’re looking to understand what other companies are doing, and what the best thing for them to do is.


In this article, we’ll break down the 4 essential steps you need to take as you plan to get your staff back to the office. This will take you from deciding if you should return to the office at all, to communicating the change to your staff. By the end, you’ll be able to plan an office return programme that works for you and your people.


Assess Your Situation

Before you spend a lot of time, money, and effort getting your people back to the office, you first need to decide if you actually need to go back to the office - and if so, why. Trying to force your people back to the office because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” won’t work.


Getting your people back to the office can have major benefits for your people and company. These include improved productivity, culture, communication, and talent development. What these benefits are will look different for every company. You need to make sure that you know exactly why you want your people to return to the office.


Part of this is understanding how your staff and real estate performance has changed over the last 5 years. How are your productivity, culture, and communication as a company, compared to 2018? Understanding the impact that the last 5 years have had on your people and real estate performance will help you understand if you need to get back to the office and why.


You should also consider the perspective of your people. Over the last 3 years, they have become accustomed to a remote or hybrid working model, and will not want to change this without good reason. By surveying your staff to understand exactly how they work, what they enjoy about their working model, and what they struggle with, you will get the insight you need to plan your return to the office to ensure it benefits both your company and your people.


Define Your Objectives

The next step is to set clear objectives for your return to the office. From the previous step, you should have identified 3-5 clear reasons why you need to return to the office. Now, you need to translate those into clear objectives to focus your return to the office. You will measure the success of your project by these objectives. It’s crucial that these objectives are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound).


You should also ensure that your objectives are balanced to benefit the staff and the company. For example, company-oriented benefits could be around productivity and communication. Staff-oriented benefits could be around culture and engagement. A balanced set of objectives will ensure you don’t face continual pushback from your people. It will also keep you focussed on delivering and plan that works for everyone – which is crucial for the long-term success of the company.


Explore Working Models

A key part of your plan to get back to the office is to decide exactly what “get back to the office” means. It doesn’t necessarily mean all staff in the office all day every day – you could implement a hybrid working model, or some other form of flexible working. Your ideal working model will be closely linked to your workspace strategy and programme objectives.


For many companies, some degree of hybrid working will be the best option. It will reduce the amount of office space you need, and improve staff satisfaction. However, you may need to implement anchor days on which certain teams or all staff need to be in the office. Alternatively, you could look at allowing staff to work a certain number of days or hours remotely per month. You could even consider the 4-day week.


It is crucial to allow all your staff to work in the way that suits them best. Your people are all unique and perform best in different ways. It’s impossible to create a workspace that’s perfect for everyone, but allowing your staff as much flexibility as possible will help them maximise their performance.

Communicate

Effective communication is an essential part of any successful change. Getting your staff back to the office is no different. The success of your communication will directly correlate with the success of your overall plan. It’s important to keep in mind that you have a different set of priorities and information as a manager, which creates a very different perspective. Clear communication is essential to resolve this. If there is a lack of communication or details left unclear, people will assume the worst and resist the change, making your job far more difficult.


When communicating your plan to your people, it’s important to start with 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. They will be much more supportive of the change, even if not all of it is to their liking. You also need to explain what is in it for them – the inherent benefits of being in the office for them, as well as any incentives you have put in place.


Once you have communicated the initial plan, it’s important to take the time and effort to listen to the feedback and perspective of your people. This is a big change for your people, so taking the time to address their concerns and adjust your plans as necessary will demonstrate your commitment to making a success of the programme. You should also get a wide range of views from staff, rather than being swayed by a few vocal staff members who don’t necessarily speak for your entire team.


Plan Your Return to The Office

Getting your staff back to the office can have major benefits for your company. Among other things, it can improve staff productivity, team communication, staff development, and talent attraction & retention. However, if poorly planned or communicated, your programme could cause major issues. You could face a lot of staff resignations and a struggle to attract fresh talent, as well as poor culture and major staff/ management conflict. A great plan is crucial to ensure you are doing what is best for you and your people.


Now that you know about the 4 essential steps to get your people back to the office, you’re ready to create your own plan to increase office attendance at your company. This goes beyond imitating similar companies or best practice. You can now create a plan that works for you and your people.


To find out more about the role of office design in getting your people back to the office using office design, read Top 6 Ways to Get Staff Back to the Office Using Office Design. We’ll cover everything from design features to strategic considerations. By the end, you’ll know how you can improve your office to attract your staff back.


Get into more detail about choosing your working model with your copy of the working model guide. We’ll compare hybrid, in-office, and remote working models by 7 key criteria, as well as examples of optimal situations for each working model, and guidance on how to choose the best working model for your business. Download your copy here.

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