It has been three years since the peak of the global COVID-19 health crisis. While nearly every organization has returned to “business as usual,” many businesses look very different today than they did at the start of 2020.
One of the most significant changes has been the rise of remote work. While telecommuting has been an advantage for some businesses, it is not the right solution for every business. A recent survey estimates that 90% of leaders want workers to return to the office by 2023. That’s a big ask, especially since nearly three-quarters of employees need incentives to return to traditional office life. “Because we say so” is no longer a compelling reason, especially in a job market that still favors candidates over employers.
You may need to get creative if you want to get your employees back to the office. You’ve likely demonstrated resilience and innovation by allowing your team members to work from anywhere. Now, you’ll need to rely on that same mindset of innovation to ask everyone to come back in person.
If you’ve found yourself wondering how to get employees back to work in the office, consider these recommendations:
1. Redesign your culture.
Instead of turning back the clock and pretending nothing happened, use this moment to reinvent your culture. Many business cultures could use a reboot anyway. Now might be the perfect time to try something different to boost connectivity and camaraderie.
Jasmine Pierik, The Yard’s Art, Events and Member Experience Program Manager, says her company is bringing everyone back to a warmer, more artistic workplace.
“Each of our 11 locations has a curator-in-residence who works with me to curate one exhibition per quarter at each location,” Pierik says. The program offers an accessible gallery space to the local creative community and surrounds team members with impressive and thought-provoking art that changes regularly. This catalyzes conversation and connection. “It adds a layer to what we’re doing here, diversifying the ecosystem and making The Yard much more than just a place to work,” Pierik says.
Your employees will appreciate creative solutions to make your workplace more attractive and unique. Be proactive and include your employees in these decisions. Collect feedback and find fun ways to replicate what your employees love about being at home. The more input you allow your employees to have, the more likely they will want to come back.
2. Embrace the conversation with fresh water.
Chris Capossela, chief marketing officer and executive vice president of consumer business at Microsoft, describes the underlying reasons why most return-to-work attempts fail. “No one wants to come into the office just to spend the day making video calls and answering emails and pings,” writes Capossela.
For generations, people have enjoyed work for a non-work reason: it allowed them to connect with people other than their family, friends, and neighbors. For many employees, their colleagues were their friends, and being around others who understood their industry gave them a sense of belonging and fulfillment.
While there are still plenty of opportunities to connect online, planning in-person events and creating a collaborative office space could help reignite your employees’ desire to be together again. You don’t want to risk losing the sense of connection that working in the office can bring.
3. Redefine flexibility.
It may be necessary to add more benefits to your employee packages to get them to agree to return full-time or part-time. Kathryn Mayer, former benefits editor at Human Resource Executive, suggests being very deliberate about the benefits you offer and tailoring them to your employees. For example, if you have many parents with young children, you may want to consider offering childcare grants.
Another benefit that can be irresistible to employees is flexible hours. About 95% of people say they want to organize their schedules. Remember that flexibility doesn’t necessarily mean working from a remote location. Flexibility might mean coming into the office at 10am and leaving at 7pm or working four 10-hour days instead of a more traditional schedule.
How can you be sure your incentives hit home? measure them Almost anything can be measured, including who uses paid time off and who leaves it on the table. By tracking metrics, you can determine which benefits you want to keep and which new ones you should offer.
4. Make the office feel like home.
Be honest: Does your workplace feel like home or is it a sterile, practical environment? To entice workers to give up their comfy couches and warm home offices, you need to make sure your spaces feel inviting and relaxing. While it’s fine to have buttoned-down spaces, you may want to have quiet, private spots or areas where people can go back to rest.
However, this is more than just staging your workplace. You have to balance the many needs of your employees. Don’t assume that putting a sectional in your break room will make workers ready to return to the office. Ask employees what they want to see and allocate your budget to new design and furniture.
You might even want to take it a step further and remove all signs from your logo. Monday.com has done this to great effect. Instead of bothering employees with a large sign declaring “You’re in the office,” the company introduced soothing lighting and neutral colors. This promotes a smooth psychological transition from home to the workplace.
You will always have some employees who are reluctant to go back to work after so many years of virtual work. However, if you think behind the switch and increase the appeal of the office, you might be surprised how quickly everyone adapts. Just be prepared to stretch your drinks and snacks budget – all those workers can’t find their flow without a little fuel.
As companies around the world continue to grapple with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, many are exploring ways to get their workers back into the office. Leaders of these organizations have to use creative approaches to entice their employees to return to the office safely. At Ikaroa, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach and each leader should tailor their approach to the needs of the workforce.
First and foremost, the safety of employees should be of the utmost importance, regardless of the industry. Employers should be proactive in implementing safety protocols and measures to ensure a safe return. This includes providing personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as virtual meetings and touchless interactions where possible. They should also clearly communicate health and safety guidelines to employees and create a sense of trust within the organization.
Leaders can also use incentives to encourage workers to return to the office. This could include offering flexible hours, paid or unpaid time off, or a company-wide bonus. Additionally, financial assistance can also be offered to employees in need. At Ikaroa, we believe incentives should be tailored to the needs and interests of each employee in order to maximize returns.
Another way to entice workers back into the office is to make the working environment enjoyable and productive. This could include rearranging furniture in a way that encourages collaboration between colleagues, providing comfortable and ergonomic workstations, and offering free snacks and beverages. Flexible working arrangements, such as remote work, can also be offered to encourage a work-life balance, so employees feel productive and engaged while at the office.
As more and more organizations find ways to get their workers back to the office, leaders need to take a thoughtful and creative approach. Putting the safety of employees first should be a priority, followed by offering incentives, financial assistance, and a productive and comfortable work environment.