Companies are opening up their offices but people aren't coming back! We offer some 7 tried and tested strategies to entice your workforce back to the office.
As the coronavirus pandemic seems to be under control, more and more people are keen to go back to what used to be their “normal”, pre-COVID19 lives. And because this, in many cases, meant working in an office, it might seem obvious that people are eager to go back to their old desks, sip coffees with their co-workers, and attend business meetings in person.
The reality, though, is much more complex. A recent survey, for example, has found that up to 40% of employees are willing to leave their current job if they aren’t offered some degree of flexibility. What does this mean, then, for the future of the workplace, and what can employers do, after being challenged during such dramatic and unprecedented times?
Simple: the keyword is “hybrid”. Hybrid working – a combination of work that is performed remotely and in-person – is the way forward for companies across the globe. To be successful, however, a hybrid office model needs to be based on a well-thought-out “return to the office” strategy.
This should highlight all the benefits of going back to the office on a part-time basis, while still enjoying the great work-life balance that remote work is so popular for. In this article, we will outline seven of the best and effective ways to attract your workforce back to the office – and keep it coming back.
Which Hybrid Option Is for You?
Before we jump into the core of our article, it’s essential to establish that there is no one ‘right’ way of doing hybrid.
Within the world of hybrid work, in fact, there are at least five different schools of thought:
1. Employee-First: Companies that adopt this policy allow their employees to pick the day or days when they come into the office. This option offers a much higher level of flexibility for the employees, which may result in better work attendance. A 2022 survey conducted by At Work revealed that 56% of the surveyed business leaders selected this approach.
2. Set Flex-Days: With this approach, a company selects specific days of the week during which an employee is expected to come into the office. This can be decided following a department or role logic, whereby some departments work in the office on some set days, while other departments work remotely on those days.
This method generally offers more advantages to the employer, as it allows for better and easier organization of the office space. However, it can also be helpful for employees who are still wary of spending hours in a small space with crowds of people. According to the At Work survey mentioned previously, 11% of the surveyed managers opted for this policy.
3. Manager-Scheduling Policy: This method is fairly similar to the one that we have just described, although it usually involves more collaboration between employer and employee. If you choose this approach, you will be expected to have a consultation with your team and, together, decide which day (or days) suits everyone best in terms of working remotely and working on-site.
Another interesting feature of this approach is that individual departments can pick and choose their own days, based on internal agreements between department heads and team members. The At Work survey found that only 8% of participants are following this approach.
4. Mixed Policy: Some companies do not follow a strict hybrid policy, preferring instead to offer their staff a combination of the three options discussed above. This means that both employers and employees gain equal benefits, although such an approach may also generate confusion and misunderstandings if not communicated appropriately. The At Work survey revealed that 25% of the surveyed business leaders are opting for this policy.
5. Role-Based: This method requires considering who, amongst the entire workforce, can easily and efficiently perform their duties remotely, and who, on the other hand, must be on-site. This might be the case, for example, with a manufacturing plant. While office staff can work from home without it affecting productivity levels, production staff has to remain on-site.
Having considered all the above, it’s essential to decide which hybrid policy works best for you and your employees. Then, you will be able to move on to the first step in your “return to the office” strategy, as outlined in the next section.
1. Have a Clear Plan in Place
For many companies offices are only now starting to teem with life, after the forced hiatus due to the pandemic. In many cases employees aren’t even returning to an office they are familiar with; rather, they are attending their company’s office for the first time. Much needs to be thought about before opening the doors wide open.
Here are some aspects to consider in your plan of action:
- Workplace model policy: Is your office hybrid policy clearly published and communicated to all those who might be affected by it? Here is a helpful resource.
- Survey employees: decisions that impact everyone are well served by being less top-down. A consultative process using a company wide survey is a great idea.
- Timings: When are you planning for your new hybrid model to come into effect?
- Personnel: Is everyone across the entire company expected to follow the new guidelines? Remember to clarify whether there are any exceptions.
- Hot Desking: Assuming desks are not assigned 1:1, a desk booking platform will be essential. Review what’s important to consider when selecting a software.
- Health and safety: While the coronavirus pandemic is no longer perceived as a major threat by most people, it’s important to remember that some of your employees might still feel uncomfortable coming back. Additional improvements to the HVAC systems or the physical layout of the office, allowing for greater distancing, would help convince those with health and safety concerns.
2. Rethink Your Office Décor and Layout
It might sound somewhat trivial but renovating parts of your office as well as its overall layout might function as an incentive to attract your employees back to the office. Post-pandemic hybrid office layouts are becoming increasingly popular because, in many ways, the definition of the office has evolved.
Consider implementing some of the following tried-and-tested office layout best practices that have been proven to be very effective in a hybrid work setting:
- More meeting areas: Coming back to the office should highlight the joy of socializing, sharing, and working collaboratively. For this reason, creating a few extra meeting rooms can be a great incentive to drive people to come back more regularly. Utilize room booking software to ensure a room can always be found.
- Casual spaces: Taking frequent, short breaks has been proven to contribute to the maintenance of focus and motivation in the long term. Therefore, incorporating a few additional break and relaxation areas in your office can be a great way to let your staff know that not only should they keep taking some time to regenerate in between meetings, but that there are specifically designated places where they can do so, easily and comfortably.
- Spaces for physical exercise: While you don’t necessarily need to build a fully-equipped gym, creating a room or two with some basic gym props and equipment can help entice your workforce back to the office. It can also teach them healthier habits, such as swapping a hurried, fast-food-fueled lunch for a few, gentle yoga stretches followed by a nutritious meal (more on this in the next section).
- Sleek, configurable office furniture: In a hybrid office setting, the chances are that you will no longer need rows and rows of outdated cubicles. With fewer employees working on-site, you have the chance to free up some space and get rid of old, bulky, and unnecessary pieces of furniture, replacing them with sleeker, more modern, office furniture such as these by Steelcase.
- Outdoor areas: Spending time in nature is well-known for being a fantastic mood-booster, and it also works wonders on employees’ productivity levels. If your office has a garden or another outdoor area, consider sprucing it up – adding some benches and tables, planting flowers, curating edges and bushes – and making it available to your staff.
3. Free Lunches and Snacks
Once you have created a cozier, more welcoming, and more productive environment across the different areas of your office, you can further attract your employees to come back by letting them know that they can enjoy meals, snacks and drinks on-site.
This is one of the best perks that you can offer your staff, and you know why? Because food is one of the highest expenses that office workers sustain on a daily basis. So much so, that a growing number of companies are offering free meals to their staff on certain days of the week.
The result? Work attendance on those days has skyrocketed.
And as more and more people who live a sedentary office life are increasingly opting for healthier food choices, you’ll have great success by offering nutritious, wholesome, and delicious snacks and meals. At the same time, remember to cater to all the different dietary needs and/or preferences of your employees, such as vegan, halal, dairy-free, and gluten-free.
Finally, remember to also equip your kitchen and eating areas with all the tools and utensils your employees might need to prepare and consume healthy, freshly-made meals.
4. Offer Travel-to-Work Bonus Plans
One of the main reasons why many people appreciated working from home during the pandemic was the fact that they no longer needed to embark on what, sometimes, felt like nightmarishly long commutes. Spending hours squeezed between dozens of other people aboard a tightly packed train or on the road can take its toll on a person’s mental and physical health. Not to mention that commutes can be extremely expensive, too.
The year before the pandemic wreaked havoc around the world, for example, the average, full-time US office worker spent between $2,000 and $5,000 on annual commutes to work. If you are serious about bringing your employees back to the office – at least, for some of the time – you’ll need to provide them with better, more cost-efficient travel alternatives.
For example, why not offer to contribute towards part of their commute costs every month? Or you could think about promoting healthier ways to travel to the office, for example by bike, by foot, or by choosing other methods of transport.
When none of these options seems feasible to you, there is something else you can do. You might allow those employees who live far to come to the office at their own convenience. Doing so will enable them to travel at much quieter, and sometimes cheaper times which means that they will get to the office calmer, happier, and more eager to work.
5. Embrace Technology
It’s no surprise that technology has become an even more vital component of our lives since remote work has come to the fore. And because even the least tech-savvy of your employees have now become accustomed to using technology much more often, they also expect to find the same tools when they come back to the office.
Some of these tools include video conferencing software such as Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet, as well as collaboration platforms such as Slack, Airtable, and Notion. Companies can even get a bit more creative and incorporate technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and Meta’s Oculus to help in the organization and hosting of interactive, engaging virtual meetings.
Another type of technology that should be on the priority list for hybrid companies worldwide is the one that lets you manage desks and workstations.
Another type of technology that should be on the priority list for hybrid companies worldwide is the one that lets you manage desks and workstations. Because having a 1:1 type of desk assignment no longer works in a hybrid setting, businesses should consider using desk booking software. Companies that have swapped traditional desk allocation with hot desking have been able to achieve a wide range of benefits, including:
- Flexibility: One of the most obvious advantages of desk booking is its ability to provide employees with more flexibility when it comes to deciding where, when, and how to work. And after the pandemic, this sentiment has only increased, promising to remain high on the agenda of both employees and employers for a long time.
- Planning and organization: Desk booking software can empower employees to take back control of their own work schedule by better planning and organizing the days and weeks ahead.
Employees simply access their desk booking app from home and reserve their space whenever they want – or need – to come into the office. And because a desk booking app like Zynq is available for mobile too, employees can also book their spot while on their morning commute, or anywhere else. But desk booking software supports better planning and organization of companies, too.
By tracking data on desk usage, company managers are able to plan ahead for their current and future real estate needs. This type of insight can also reveal whether any specific workstations are never used, and thus allow office managers to rethink the layout and furniture of specific areas to ensure maximum productivity and minimum waste.
- Cost-efficiency: Constantly surging real estate costs are a huge pain point for most businesses, which is why having a desk booking system in place can help. By increasing the ratio of employees-to-desks, company managers can accommodate a higher number of people while keeping the office the same size or downsizing.
- Hygiene and cleanliness: Back when employees had assigned desks, it was not uncommon to rapidly witness them turn into piles of clutter, personal items, and sometimes even dirt. Desk booking allows companies to forget all about old, half-eaten snacks, long-lost sweaters, and messy workstations, as it ensures people keep those spaces clean and neat, knowing that another colleague will likely be using it after them.
6. Organize Fun Social Events
When surveyed about how they are enticing their employees to return to the office on a part-time basis, 42% of business leaders that took part in a recent At Work poll answered: “Through social events”. The social aspect of being physically in an office is something that remote work simply can’t and won’t ever be able to replace or recreate.
It doesn’t matter how many Friday evening Zoom drinks or virtual escape rooms you organize – the warmth, comfort, and empathy that in-person work offers are unique to that specific environment. With this in mind, it might be a good idea to attract your employees back to the office by organizing regular social events.
These can be anything from very laid-back post-work drinks to something a lot more elaborate, such as a spa afternoon, a sports day, or a cinema-style lunch break. It all depends on what sector you operate in and what your employees are interested in.
In fact, it’s wise to run your ideas past your staff, and ask them to provide feedback, tips, and suggestions. If you want this to be a success, though, remember to keep organizing fun social gatherings on a regular basis and not just as a one-off.
7. Make It Compulsory on Certain Occasions
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that, as an employer, you can decide to make going to the office mandatory on specific occasions. These can be, for example, special events, business meetings, conferences, workshops, seminars, training sessions, and more.
It’s important to note that you can still make this compulsory regardless of which approach to hybrid work you had previously chosen. For example, let’s say that your company is following an at-will hybrid policy, in which most of the agency is given to the employee as opposed to the employer.
If the occasion calls for it, and if it’s clear that your employees will directly benefit from it, it’s reasonable for you to request their presence in the office on that day. Of course, this shouldn’t become the norm, but your employees should also expect to provide a small degree of flexibility, understanding, and willingness to compromise.
The Bottom Line
Returning to the office post-pandemic means mostly one thing: creating a hybrid workspace. This is a working arrangement that combines both remote and in-person attendance, and that can highly benefit both companies and workers.
If you are following a hybrid work approach and want to always stay on top of your logistics and organization, then try Zynq. Our platform powers the new generation of hybrid work by helping things run smoothly, efficiently, and productively in the “new normal”.