The pandemic brought an instant switch to home working for many employees, emptying offices overnight. Now, as conditions have improved companies are trying to get more people back to the office, with many giving deadlines of the end of the summer to return.
However, there’s still a lot of resistance. For example, research found that 60% of workers said they’d rather quit than return to the office five days a week. Another survey showed the stark contrast between employers and employees – it showed that while 75% of people’s employers had instructed them to return to the office, 26% said they’d refuse to go back.
This is clearly a polarising topic – many people do want to go back to the office, even if not full-time. But where does it leave businesses? At a time when the Great Resignation, quiet quitting and skills shortages are all impacting their productivity, how can they overcome any back to the office resistance and improve employee retention?
Understanding the reasons for home working
To start, it is important for employers to understand why many people enjoy working remotely. Listening to feedback uncovers a variety of reasons – from greater productivity at home to the freedom from micromanagement, increased flexibility and greater work/life balance remote work provides. Many actively like the fact that they can avoid certain colleagues and their habits. 32% of employees surveyed by Tivian said avoiding colleagues they disliked was a key benefit of homeworking. There’s also a cost and time saving as they don’t need to commute, a particular boon given the rising cost of petrol.
Equally, some employees, particularly in vulnerable groups, may still have health and safety fears. Above all many have formed new habits – they’ve essentially got out of the daily routine of going into the office. Given 20% of people changed jobs since the pandemic began, they may not even know many of their co-workers, meaning it may be daunting to meet people in real life rather than over Teams and Zoom.
Understanding why people want to go back to the office
As we’ve said many people do want to return to the office, albeit on a part-time basis. This can be because the experience of working at home doesn’t meet their needs. They may have been juggling family and household commitments when working at home or faced a lack of space or poor facilities such as an inadequate internet connection. Employers may not be able to provide the digital tools, such as collaboration software, that enables them to work effectively from home.
All of these factors actually reduce productivity. For many, the blurring of barriers between work and home has contributed to longer working hours (an average of two more hours per day according to research) with an increased threat of stress and potential burnout. As we move into winter, the expense of heating a home office during the day will also add to employee costs – and may outweigh any travel savings. Certain employees actually miss their colleagues and the social side of the office, as well as the structure and boundaries that it provides.
How can employers meet every employee’s needs?
While employees are split, employers see definite benefits in bringing staff back to the office, hence the deadlines they have given. 82% of business decision makers say getting people back to the office in person is a concern, for example. Companies see benefits including the ability to collaborate and innovate through face-to-face meetings, the chance to strengthen teams, especially when they have newer hires or more junior employees, and to build a strong, positive culture.
However, with many determined not to return full-time, it is important to offer people the ability to work in a hybrid way – but also to be fair to all, as there’s a lot of variance in attitudes between different demographics. You need to offer the right experience to each and every employee to get the best out of them.
Essentially, businesses need to treat the return to the office as a major cultural change project – which means focusing on these eight areas:
Listen to your people on a one-to-one basis
– find out what they like and dislike about working in the office or at home and use this to inform your actions on an individual and wider basis. Bear in mind that 67 percent of employees said they would be more likely to stay if employers listened and made changes based on their feedback.
– let people know what you are doing and why, stressing the importance of their input to the decisions you have taken around remote work and returning to the office.
Lead from the top
– make sure that your leaders are in the office and are available and visible. But don’t demonise people for not being in the office all the time.
Focus on the work environment
– listen to what employees want and reshape the office environment. For example, introduce more social spaces for collaboration and meeting rooms but also places where people can work undisturbed.
Focus on employee needs
– in many cases people want more social opportunities to interact, so provide them. Also, bear in mind current economic pressures – are there ways you can change the working environment to help employees, such as by providing lunches or other benefits?
Train your managers for the new world of work –
ensure that they are not discriminating against those that choose not to work in the office full-time, but at the same time are building strong hybrid teams that include everyone.
– the whole process of returning to the office is new to staff, so their needs and requirements may change once they get back in the building. Therefore, don’t be afraid to update your strategy and tactics as you go, based on the latest feedback.
Give people the right tools
– provide digital solutions that enable employees to work effectively, wherever they are. For many organisations, digitalisation is a major shift, meaning you need to successfully manage this transformational change. That involves listening to employees throughout the process, identifying key trends in adoption, and taking effective action to ensure digitalisation delivers real benefits to the organisation.
Why listening is key to bringing people back to the office
The world of work has been reshaped by the pandemic and many people are clearly wary about returning to the office. The key to successfully wooing them back, and retaining their skills and experience, is to listen to them on an individual basis. Then act on their feedback to deliver the hybrid working environment that will best meet–the needs of the company and the employee now and moving forward.