The workplace is in the midst of a revolution. The Covid-19 pandemic forced many of us to work from home. Whilst many of us struggled with the lack of human interaction, others enjoyed more free time, flexibility and an improved work/life balance.
As life has been gradually returning to normal, a recent survey discovered 90% of companies would require employees to return to the office in 2023. At Ovation Incentives, we have over 20 years of experience helping companies cultivate positive working cultures. In this article, we'll explore how you can entice people to return to the office with a positive working environment.
Make your office a place people want to be
You can make the physical office space more attractive (or at least tolerable) to employees to help the transition of returning to the office more appealing. Some ways to do this are as follows.
Give your space personality
Your brand values should work in harmony with your office environment. If you have a fun, vibrant, cheerful or quirky brand, try adding bold colours and funky furnishings.
Workplaces are becoming increasingly open to allowing team members to bring their dogs to work with them. Pets in the workplace have many benefits for both employers and employees. Pets can offer comfort and reduce anxiety, and having a dog in the office can encourage employees to take regular breaks and get out for a walk.
Provide Quality Refreshments
A recent Reed survey found that 40% of employees voted for high-quality complimentary tea and coffee as their most valued perk at work. Whilst we can't all have an in-house barista, a kettle and some instant coffee won't entice anyone. As an employer, a small investment in a bean-to-cup coffee machine has many benefits, including improved productivity, mood and creativity among your staff.
How should I tell my staff I want them back in the office?
If you're considering bringing all your remote workers back to your office, you'll need to approach the situation with empathy and clear communication. Otherwise, you may risk losing your top talent. Be mindful that many remote employees may feel anxious about returning or simply may want to stay working remotely. The pandemic has significantly affected many people's mental health, and many value the better work-life balance and flexibility that working from home brings. Happy and healthy employees are more productive, so you'll need to look out for them to keep employee satisfaction high.
Here are some steps you can follow when communicating your request with your staff:
- Start by explaining why returning to the office is necessary for the company. Be transparent about the business reasons and how they will benefit the company and the employees.
- Consult with your HR team or a legal advisor to ensure your decision complies with applicable laws or regulations.
- Consider the needs and concerns of your employees and offer support where possible. For example, you could offer flexible hours or options for phased returns to ease the transition.
- Ensure all employees understand who they can speak to if they're struggling with any issues. Implement an employee assistance program to help employees deal with personal problems that might adversely impact their work performance, health and well-being. There should be processes whereby line managers regularly check in on their team members — giving them the support they need.
- Clearly communicate the expectations and timeline for the return to the office. Give your employees enough notice to prepare, and provide any necessary information or resources to help them make the transition.
- Be open to feedback and adjust your plans as needed based on employee concerns or suggestions.
Taking a thoughtful and considerate approach can help ensure a smooth transition back to the office for your staff and alleviate some of the concerns your staff may have.
Offer a hybrid working model and more flexibility
What is hybrid working?
Hybrid work is a flexible model where employees split their time between office days and remote working. It offers employees the freedom and flexibility to choose to work wherever and however they are most productive.
Benefits of hybrid working models
Having your employees return to the office doesn't have to mean all staff need to be there five days a week. With a hybrid model, your company and your staff can enjoy the benefits of better collaboration, teamwork and communication in team meetings, which can help with employee engagement. Despite the improvements in workplace technology, productive in-person meetings and workshops can help save time for everyone involved. For deep work that requires lots of concentration, the individual can choose the best environment for them with the least distractions.
Many businesses have now adopted a hybrid policy as it offers the best of both worlds. Despite this, your business will still need the right technology, infrastructure, and good communication for a successful hybrid work schedule.
What if employees can't or don't wish to return?
Despite all the benefits of hybrid working models, some employees may want to stay fully remote for personal reasons. For others, it may not be practical to return as they may have moved to a remote location or even enjoy the benefits of being a digital nomad — working and travelling around the world in different time zones. Despite your wishes, you should still let your employees choose their work environment (in certain cases). No one should be forced to return full-time if they don't want to. You will only risk losing them to another organisation that offers the benefit of fully remote work. Special circumstances can be made for different roles, for those who perform better remotely, offering remote work as a reward or for those for whom it's impractical. Be mindful of what works best for your employees and their personal lives. After all, you'll want to ensure you have your employees' best interests at heart to enable them to perform the job to the best of their abilities.
Offering employee benefits & incentives
Employees working remotely have benefited from cost savings as they no longer had travel expenses. The financial impact of travel undoubtedly adds up over time, so this could be another reason why some staff are reluctant to return. If you can, covering these expenses or even providing a slight salary increase to help with the cost of travel can be a great way to entice staff back to the office and be an attractive benefit, especially for younger employees and new hires in the future.
Another example of a financial incentive would be a profit sharing scheme or, if you are a public company, you could offer some stock/share options. This incentivises employees to perform well to help the company perform well and grow, making everyone better off financially and giving your business a competitive advantage in your industry.
Flexible working hours
Flexible working hours (aka. flexitime) allows employees to choose their own hours, although we'd recommend having this within a certain set of limits. Allowing employees more flexibility with their working hours can be offered as a reward given for meeting targets, exemplary behaviour or good quality work. A great benefit, particularly for employees with busy personal lives, young children, or a family member that needs looking after.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that people like free food, which can act as a strong incentive to entice people back to the office. However, it's easy to underestimate just how effective free food can be for employee retention. Providing free food can actually result in a 67% job satisfaction rate. Not only are there great cost savings for your employees, but they can save time not having to go out and queue up somewhere. By providing a range of healthy foods, you can also help your staff to be more productive and avoid the dreaded post-lunch food coma, whilst sharing a meal is a great way for your team to bond and strengthen your company culture.
Other benefits can include the following:
- Health insurance and wellness programs
- Retirement benefits
- Additional paid leave
- Sick leave
- Parental leave
- Maternity leave
Social learning opportunities
As we discussed earlier, Zoom meetings are draining in ways that in-person meetings are not. You just can't get the same level of interaction and engagement as you can when everyone's in the room together. With this in mind, you could try to entice people back into the office by offering professional development activities such as workshops or mentoring where they can learn new skills and develop their careers.
The best way to get people back into the office is to make it a place where your employees want to come — both as a physical space and the culture within it. You can do this by ensuring there are plenty of amenities on-site, like gyms and cafes, or even just by ensuring that your office has a good reputation among employees. A pleasant office environment can make your staff happy, creative, and productive. If you're in doubt about whether or not your company culture is right for this, ask around!