4 Steps to Determine if it’s Best for Employees to Return to Office
Are you considering bringing your employees back to the office? Many companies in 2022 have already begun forcing their remote workers back into the office. You may be gearing up to do the same. While there are several benefits to bringing your team back in, there are also some cons to consider.
This article will look at what you need to think about when bringing employees back to the office and four steps that you can use to help decide. Finally, we’ll wrap up with some tips on executing this tricky task.
What companies are going back to the office in 2022?
Many companies have started to ask their employees to return to the office. Some of the biggest names to bring up the possibility include tech giants, Google and Twitter. Twitter CEO, Parag Agrawal, told employees earlier this year that office openings would begin on March 15. Originally targeting January 10, Google adjusted their own timeline for a 2-3 day a week return to office plan to start on April 4.
Banking and financial firms, such as Citigroup, American Express, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan are all also returning to working in person. American Express is adopting an “Amex Flex” approach where employees will work hybrid roles and schedules set by their leaders. Additionally, BNY Mellon, with 50,000 employees globally, also expected employees to return this spring.
One of the recent controversial calls to return to work came from Tesla CEO and billionaire Elon Musk. In a leaked email, Musk ordered employees to return to the office or leave the company. Along with the email, Musk also sent out a memo to senior Tesla employees directing them to fire anyone who refused to work in person. On Twitter, many people have remained divided; some support Musk, while others believe that returning to work is unnecessary.
Overall, many companies seem to be driving at bringing their employees back to the office, whether they like it or not. In many cases, companies are choosing to leverage a hybrid model to give their employees more flexible working options.
What are the benefits of going back to the office?
With so many companies pushing to get employees back in the office, you might be wondering what the advantages of this are. Well, there are a handful of reasons why returning to work is a good idea.
One of the key ones is that companies are having trouble tracking productivity. Or on the flip side, productivity is happening at odd times, leading to poor work-life balance and eventually burnout.
Sean Bisceglia, CEO of Curion, a consumer product research, and insights company, said, “[p]roductivity is through the roof, but it’s over the top – it’s too much productivity where people are sending emails at 10:00 at night or 1:00 in the morning.” By bringing employees back to the office, companies can better track productivity while helping to encourage healthier working habits.
One aspect of communication that is lost when working remotely is the regular micro-communications between employees. These are the quick chats you have when passing by a co-worker’s desk or the group up in a conference room to make a final decision on a project. Basically, any sort of spontaneous communication helps finish tasks or convey information more quickly.
Bringing people back to the office reintroduces these micro-communications. Which potentially means shorter completion times for certain tasks. It also means less information is lost or misconstrued thanks to the irregular check-ins that can happen in the office every day.
The social element
Another valuable tool that has been lost is that training new workers is more difficult remotely. And building a strong company culture is difficult when employees are not in the office as well. Working from home makes it harder for employees to visit each other and connect, even if their coworkers are just a click away.
In the end, working in the office has a social element to it that can’t be ignored. Employees may be able to send an email from their beds, but that doesn’t mean they’re contributing to the company’s overall goals.
Issues like this are what critics (like Musk) mean when they say people need to return to the office. By working from home, workers miss out on all the spontaneous collaborative opportunities that come with working alongside others.
What are the drawbacks of going back to the office?
If keeping an eye on employees is so important, what are the drawbacks?
The main drawback seems to be the backlash that employers might face from their employees. Since the pandemic, many employees have enjoyed working from home. This means less commuting, less time getting ready, and so on. It all adds up to more time at home with family, pets, and whatever other important lifestyle benefits working from home comes with.
Today, with expectations that employees can work from home, bringing them back to the office means that employers face the potential of their employees quitting.
Then there’s the issue of increasing costs — returning to the office means paying for space and related expenses. During the pandemic, many companies gave up their office leases and rental desks. Bringing workers back means signing new leases and taking on new recurring costs. When trying to overcome inflation, keeping workers remote or in hybrid situations certainly seems appealing.
4 steps to decide if you should bring employees back to the office
How can you decide if you should bring employees back to the office? And how do you do it without causing a mass exodus? Here are four steps to take:
1. Review the pros and cons of returning to the office
To start, review both sides of returning to the office. This approach can differ depending on the industry you work in. So, remember your pros and cons:
- Easier to track employee productivity and keep an eye on what projects everyone is working on.
- Helps build a better work culture. Working in an office has a social aspect, meaning spontaneous problem-solving can occur at the drop of a hat. Rather than hoping someone replies to your email, you can step down the hallway and have a friendly chat.
- Training is improved as employees can organically pick up skills from their colleagues. This process is more difficult online because mentoring opportunities cannot happen as easily.
- Remote work is hard to leave behind. Many employees are used to the easier pace of work where they can enjoy more time with their families. Having to spend more time commuting may add to their frustrations with returning to work besides just being in the office.
- Some employees are going to quit, which inevitably means losing talent and some very valuable workers.
- Increased spending on office space and related expenses.
2. Talk with your employees
Once you’ve examined the pros and the cons, it’s time to talk with your employees. This will help you figure out what their needs and concerns are. Many employees may be excited about returning to the office, while others may have serious concerns.
The Great Resignation can tell you a lot about what employees are worried about. Among the factors that pushed millions of people to quit their jobs in search of better work were the ability to work remotely and get better pay and benefits. Consider these factors when you talk with your employees. Gaining feedback on what drives their employment decisions will give you insight into handling the return to the office.
A hybrid-style work environment may be amenable to most employees. And the flexibility to take off early when they have to pick their kids up from school or if they need to make it somewhere after work may also be important.
Making these accommodations when you discuss things with your employees can help smooth out the transition of bringing your remote teams back to a physical workspace.
3. Explore the cost of returning to the office
Once you’ve talked with your employees, consider the costs associated with making a return to the office. The highest cost will be the loss of talent that occurs as you force people to come back to work.
In your discussions with employees, if you find that invaluable employees will quit if you force them to be in person, consider their reasons and how you can accommodate their needs so they can continue working without sacrificing productivity and talent.
Other costs associated with returning to the office will include managing your office space. If your company has fully divested itself of office space, it may be worth considering whether you’ll see big enough benefits returning to a physical location.
You may also experience an additional cost from the loss of productivity. Any time new systems are implemented or old ones are changed, workers’ productivity usually changes as well.
In this case, returning to the office can mean not only monetary expenses but also strain your employees to be as productive as they were at home. Depending on your industry, this can affect sales, marketing efforts, production, etc. Remember, productivity will likely only take an initial hit and recover as people become used to their new schedules.
4. Establish guidelines and test going back into the office
As with any new process or change in a business, it’s important to establish guidelines before implementation. One issue that many companies face is failing to properly establish rules or procedures before undertaking massive changes.
For example, consider what changes you’ve seen occur over the past two years since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Many companies rushed to implement remote work without clear policies or guidelines. As a result, expectations shifted, and now employers face an uphill battle to bring employees back to in-person work.
Some guidelines could include clear expectations for employees who return to work. One recent issue employers have had is that employee monitoring exploded during the pandemic. Rather than undermining trust, consider ways to ensure your employees come to the office without excessive monitoring.
Additionally, consider playing around with allowing some remote work. For example, some employees may need to care for children or the elderly. Craft clear guidelines for employees who wish to utilize these types of systems, so when you allow people to work remotely, there are well-established rules and procedures for determining when hybrid and remote work are appropriate.
Next, test the return to the office. Many companies have brought back limited numbers or specific workgroups. This way, you can handle problems as they emerge and also solve them before they spread out of control. Testing can include hybrid possibilities too. Depending on your organization’s size, you can test various methods of returning to work and analyze the results for the best outcomes once you’re ready to go organization-wide.
Finally, consider creating a contingency plan if the return to the office does not go as planned. A contingency plan can help you in case you need to apply the brakes to the entire process and rethink what returning to working in-person looks like.
Tips to successfully return to the office
Have you decided to bring your employees back to the office? How will you ensure it’s a success? In this final section, we’ll look at 3 tips for ensuring bringing workers back to the office goes smoothly.
Provide a good reason to go back
It should go without saying—calling your employees back to work without providing a good enough reason will only cause them to resent you. Many industries are already remote most of the time. For example, most IT professionals will see no reason to return to the office.
Unless you provide a good reason for employees to return, you may face a backlash. This could be increased benefits or pay, in-office perks, or some other sort of benefit that wasn’t possible when working remotely. If you can’t define a good enough reason, it may be best to reconsider pushing to go back to full-time in-office work.
Embrace a hybrid model
Hybrid work models are becoming more popular. They allow employees to get the benefit of working from home sometimes, and companies can focus on what makes working in the office beneficial.
Hybrid models can help you prioritize tasks when they’re critical and allow employees to work remotely when doing less important administrative work. Consider how a hybrid model can ensure your successful return to the office.
Don’t forget the remote employees
Third and finally, don’t forget about your employees that are working remotely. Bringing your team back to the office means considering what makes being remote so great in the first place. Do your employees need different hours? Do they need more benefits?
Remember to keep up with essential remote work IT support such as VPNs, ensuring network security, etc. When you talk with your employees, share these details to understand their needs before forcing them back to the workplace.
Find balance when returning to the office
Bringing your employees back to the office doesn’t have to send them running for the hills. Many companies are already bringing workers back to in-person work because of the benefits it brings. If you carefully balance your employees’ needs with your demands, you’ll be able to bring your people back on short notice.