Reasons for Returning to the Office: The Workforce Institute Weigh-In

This month, The Workforce Institute Weigh-In looks at the highly debated topic of return to the office.

The Workforce Institute Weigh-In for September 2022What can companies do to encourage employees to return to the office, now that many people have gotten used to/comfortable with working from home?

“There are a few options available: 1) Employers can offer a hybrid model for employees to come into the office for three days and work from home for two days a week. This would include the opportunity to implement a 9/80 work schedule or a 4x10 work schedule. 2) Employers can transform a portion of their offices that could allow for onsite healthcare facility, child daycare centers, doggy daycare, and workout rooms for those who are present in the office. 3) Employers can create environments that foster greater levels of interpersonal relationships amongst cross-functional departments. This can be accomplished by sponsoring catered-meal events, ice cream socials, team-building activities such as attending professional sporting events, trivia competitions, food truck events, etc.” — Martin Armstrong, vice president of payroll shared services, Charter Communications

“Firstly, I believe leaders need to start properly implementing their new hybrid-working policies. If we believe that most businesses require an element of ‘real-life’ collaboration and socialisation to drive innovation and creativity, then it becomes a business imperative for teams to return to the workplace at least two to three days per week. I think the balance of decision making has shifted too far in favour of employees’ preferences. We should define roles that require presence and enforce it, and, for others, convert their terms and conditions into remote contracts. So, my personal view is that we should require relevant teams to come back, and, if they are not prepared to return to the office, then ask them to find an alternative company to join. At the same time, we need to make the workplace experience exciting. There is no point in coming to the workplace and spending the whole day in virtual meetings. The precious face-to-face opportunities should be spent in genuine collaboration and innovation. We should also open up our workplaces, focus on energising spaces, excellent services (wellbeing, food service, events, etc.), and creating an environment that fosters relationship building and networking.” — Natalie Bickford, executive vice president and chief people officer, Sanofi

“I don’t think employers should be requiring people to return to work. If anything, employers who want employees to come back to the office should make a compelling case as to why that is important, not just require it. We know from research that many employees are more productive at home and more creative/innovative at home without a real loss of culture, all while having stronger relationships with their families and friends. Personally, I love a blended approach like some companies have adopted, such as work where you want, but spend a week together once a quarter.” — Kate Bischoff, employment attorney, k8bisch, LLC

“To convince people to come back into the office, I’d ask managers to create a few bullet points about each of their direct reports with some specifics as to why it is good for them to come back in. I’d stress that those bullet points need to be specific. It shouldn’t be, ‘The reason to come in is better communication.’ It has to be more like, ‘The reason for Mary to come in is that there needs to be face-to-face time with Alisha and Yurii on the website design.’ If a manager knows the specific reason, then they can communicate it to the employee as well as make sure the needed action happens (e.g., Mary does get face-to-face time with Alisha and Yurii). Now, what if the manager cannot think of any good reason for the person to come in? Well, in that case, I’d suggest rethinking the return to the workplace policy.” — David Creelman, CEO, Creelman Research

“There has to be a sense of accountability to the organization. So many organizations took care of their people through COVID-19. Don’t we owe it to the organization to try something that may be a little uncomfortable? Instead of finding ‘comfort’ in working from home, we need to learn to be comfortable through discomfort. This challenges us to think and respond differently in all work scenarios. Human design is to connect with people. Organizations should be asking what their people need to return to the office. Then, find the common themes and find middle ground (reasonable accommodations) to meet employees where they are at.” — Chas Fields, co-host, The People Purpose Podcast

“As we all consider the benefits of staying at home versus returning to the office, it is important for managers to communicate to their employees the following: Let’s work together to organize what work is best done in a collaborative, in-person manner and schedule meetings/sessions with that in mind; We know it is important to share moments together that are not planned or scheduled and happen naturally as we are in the office together; Being physically together supports the fact that we are aligned around a common mission and sharing institutional knowledge; We can together balance work schedules to give you the flexibility that you desire and for our people to be physically together in meaningful ways and time.” — Nanne Finis, RN, MS, chief nurse executive, UKG

“Senior leaders are failing to return to the office as well, making it less valuable for the general population to see and be seen by them. Free lunches are fine, but to bring employees back, there must be a demonstrated value in them making the commute. Senior leaders should organize real, work-related collaboration sessions in the office where employees will learn, contribute, and make meaningful connections. Coming in to sit in a cubical for 8-10 hours is a waste of a train ticket, car ride, or bus fare.” — John Frehse, senior managing director of labor strategy, Ankura

“Stop forcing people to come into the office. I do wonder if part of the reason that employees are digging in where remote work is concerned is because organizations are mandating returns to the office. It’s OK to tell employees that you’d love to see them. Then, gently remind employees that they will be held accountable for getting the work done. Period. Eventually, employees will return to the office — because they want to. Not because the organization is forcing them to. We’ve gone this long, let the transition back to the workplace be more employee-driven.” — Sharlyn Lauby, author, HR Bartender blog

“Deliver on the promised value of face-to-face interaction and camaraderie. If you are requiring employees to be in the office a few days a week, don’t just have them sitting in a room by themselves. If a person’s team isn’t there and they’re sitting alone at a workstation all day and not engaging with anyone in person, they might as well have saved themselves the commute and kept working from home.” — Alexandra Levit, author, “Humanity Works”

“One thing companies need to consider is the volume of new employees who have been onboarded during the last couple of years, who began working at their new companies during a time when many employees have been working remotely and/or hybrid schedules, and, as a result, these new folks most likely lack a basic familiarity with the physical space, as well as with the majority of their colleagues from other departments. These are all elements of the broader culture, and, with remote work, a gap has been created for newly hired employees in the understanding of the core company culture. With this as a reference point, consider at least one full day where ALL employees return and get familiar with the company purpose and mission, the office spaces, facilities, warehouses, and each other. This might be a multi-day or multi-week process, depending on the size of the workforce. Most importantly, this process needs to be designed programmatically — it needs to be intentionally planned out. Consider a modified employee orientation program where all employees, both newly hired and longer term, will attend several presentations focused on gaining familiarity with the organization, its physical spaces, and key leadership team members. Perhaps schedule an informal lunch meeting with key leaders, and/or several of the longer-term employees so that newer employees can get a sense for the history of the company. Along this same line of thinking, depending on the type of business, one might consider spending part of that first on-site day in a programmatic safety training session, especially in workspaces that offer more serious hazards. Again, this would apply to all employees, not just newly hired employees.” — Dennis Miller, assistant vice president of HR and benefits administration, The Claremont Colleges

Companies that want employees to return to the office must ensure they have a workplace culture that’s better than the remote experience for team members. While you can make in-person work hours mandatory without improving culture, you might also notice resignations start to add up. Why? Because employees in many industries now know that they a) have a choice, b) can be productive and engaged away from the office, and c) crave flexibility as they go through their corporate journeys.” — Joey V. Price, co-host, While We Were Working podcast

“I think the answer to this question depends on how the leadership is at this moment in the company. Perhaps, the senior leadership team remains skeptical of work-from-home arrangements. One suggestion: Focus on what your teams care about. From HR, focus on what your leaders and teams care about and find ways to show that remote work results are beneficial to the company to retain skilled employees who might otherwise have to leave to provide childcare or avoid any health risks. You might also think about what is happening in your business environment. An example: in México (as is happening in Latin-American countries), there is a new labor reform, NOM-037, focused on ‘inviting’ companies to incorporate some changes and obligations with the employees working in the home office or a hybrid setup. It is relevant, in this case, to create new rules for Méxican employees working more than three days outside the workplace. On the other hand, some leaders can feel a sense of loss when the management is outside their control. Why not try scheduling some rituals (e.g., virtual coffee hours) to restore, with as many comforting details as possible, the communication and relationship with employees going on and back from home.” — Ivonne Vargas, award-winning journalist and bestselling author, “¡Contrátame!” (Hire Me!)