Insight on finding the right strategy for returning to the office.
Millions of workers are facing burn out these days… Teams are scattered. “Zoom fatigue” is part of our regular vocabulary now. People are missing face-to-face interactions but are conflicted about returning to office spaces. Over half of the companies in the US want employees back in the office 5 days a week, but experts are saying that forcing this is a bad strategy. Many managers are pinned between executives and employees, trying to find the right steps to offer more individual flexibility while satisfying the company’s goals.
It’s fair to say companies are struggling with how and when to open their offices, and the ever-changing currents of COVID variants in many areas are exacerbating those challenges. In recent weeks, over 70% of workplaces have changed their Return to Office (RTO) policies, even as more and more are looking to bring people back together. While there are many good reasons to do so, workers are conflicted about striking the right balance of RTO and flexibility. Perhaps not surprisingly, there are discrepancies between how much work executives, management, and employees think should be performed in-person.
In surveys of workers:
21% work in positions that can only be fulfilled in person
27% want to be fully or mostly remote (4 or more days a week)
29% want a 2 to 3 day hybrid schedule
20% want to go back to the office full time or 4+ days a week
Meanwhile, when it comes to managers, we get a different picture:
68% agree that remote work has no negative impact on the bottom line or may increase it
42% prefer a hybrid model, while 33% want a full RTO and only 25% want to be fully remote
51% think their employees want to come back full time
51% said they would consider pay cuts for employees who refuse RTO
So what’s a company to do when it comes to encouraging workers to come back to the office? You might be surprised how many are offering concessions to full-time requirements:
77% have adopted hybrid models
61% are making physical workspace changes
5% have no office attendance policy at all
88% of companies are using incentives
Obviously, there are more people in leadership positions who desire a full Return to Office than there are employees who agree. In the midst of the many discussions around this issue, experts agree that strategies which promise the most success prioritize both employee needs and company needs. A good way for leaders to do that is to ask:
– Why do I want or need my team back in the office?
– What do my employees want or need when coming back?
You should find definitive answers for both questions. Is it about the physical space? The mental space? Is it about reconnecting employees with each other, or maybe with the company vision or culture as a whole? Talk with your managers and confer with leadership; use their feedback and data to make an informed decision. Taking a look at your bottom line, examine your profitability and productivity while your teams were working remotely. Factor in the costs of your office space and other overhead, and compare those with the calculated and estimated value of having your people back in one space together.
Employee satisfaction and confidence is inextricably tied to long-term, sustainable productivity and profitability. To answer the second question above, managers and leaders should have 1 on 1 conversations with team members. While your leadership may already know what the business requires, only your employees can tell you what they need and want, whether it’s related to financial compensation, a flexible schedule, commuting reimbursements, access to child care, or more mental health resources. Only by having these conversations can you better assess the needs of your team and find ways to balance them with the needs of your company.
An employee’s trust in leadership is essential to their sense of unity, solidarity, and community within the company culture. If there is anything the past couple of years have taught us, it is the importance of health and welfare. This means more than just access to health care or mental health resources: it means creating a safe and inclusive work environment and fostering a healthy life-work balance. It also translates to compensation, incentivization, recognition, and rewards. It means eliminating the proximity bias on-site teams will feel and attempting to remedy the isolation felt by employees who continue to work remotely. Teams need to stay engaged, and not just with the people they share a physical office with; their remote or hybrid colleagues are also important… and, notably, their families.
As noted in one of our previous blogs, clear communication is key to raising employee satisfaction and retaining staff. COVID-related issues and the Return to Office can be particularly challenging, and with the many viewpoints and factors to consider, it’s important to remember that communication flows in more than one direction. Instead of guessing what will work best for your company, define your priorities, learn what your employees desire most, and use those to align your culture, your strategic goals, and the functional needs of the company as a whole. Through listening and gathering insight, you can lead your team to a more successful return.
No matter your strategy, whether you go remote, hybrid, or full return, CEI is here to help ensure your team collaborates and communicates better, functions smoothly together, and stays engaged and connected. Contact us today to find out how we can help create an amazing RTO experience for your team.