How to get employee buy-in for Return to the Office

A core business philosophy is that employees are the business’s greatest asset. This past year proved that these assets do not have to be under the company’s roof; technology can keep a business going when employees are socially distant. In addition, employees appreciated working from home because they had control of their work schedules and no expense or time-loss from a commute. Yet there are many reasons that companies want employees back in the office, at least part-time. So how does a company get their employees’ buy-in for a return-to-work plan?

Employees and companies have been pleasantly surprised by how effective Work-From-Home has been. As a whole, working from home is less productive than working in an office due to the knowledge spill-over that occurs when people work together. But due to available technology tools, work from home is not as unproductive as it has been in the past.

It has increased substantially since the start of the pandemic. Rather than losing productivity as many companies fear, in some cases, productivity even increases when working from home. Often this was due to the control workers have had while they’ve been home—especially over their schedules and working patterns. Choice, control, and autonomy are critical to people’s wellbeing, happiness, and mental health.  With more choice and control, people have less stress and perform better.

Access to Work-From-Home Technologies

The technologies that support work-from-home have permanently changed how we work, how we value housing, and how we think about commutes. Productive work from home required stable computers, high-speed internet, cloud computing for instantaneous sharing of data, and video conferencing technologies. The access an employee has to these technologies directly affects their ability to work from home productively.

Yet, there have also been some downsides to the Work-From-Home experiment, particularly relating to creativity, collaboration, employee development, and corporate spirit. The first step to entice employees to return to the office is to be transparent about the downsides when they are not in the office and how their work contributes to the value chain and the end customer.

Office as a Destination for Employees

We know employees prefer to work from home. So why would employees want to come into the office? The office must be enticing to convince an employee to make the commute. First, it must feel safe to be in the office. Secondly, the office needs to encourage the activities the employee cannot do easily at home. Specifically, socialization, collaboration, and brainstorming should be primary goals for reconfiguring the workspace. Finally, when designing the office for hybrid employees, make sure that when in-office and at-home employees are in communications, they can feel the office’s atmosphere. You want the remote employees to know what they are missing and want to come in.

Here are some ideas on what the Office of the Future would look like.

Office Designs Based on Percentage of Hybrid versus Full-time In-House Employees

The workspace needs to accommodate the needs of the mix of employees, and every office is different. For example, when 80% of the employees are full-time in the office, most of the floor plan is dedicated to the workspaces for full-time in-office employees, and some of the floor plan is used for shared communal areas for the remote employees.  

When it is a 50/50 workforce, there needs to be a balanced hybrid approach to the workplace with an even mix of desk hoteling and dedicated desks. In addition, lockers and dividers can separate permanent employee areas from hybrid areas and provide a place to store traveling gear or lock personal items away at night.

For an office with a 20/80 workforce, where 80% of the employees’ time is spent elsewhere, the office landscape must optimize the feeling of belonging and community. Employees only come to the workplace to connect with their colleagues. Flexibility thru soft architecture and creating spaces that can be agile and move as organizational change happens is the focus. This floorplan will need social areas easily adjusted to accommodate a mix of teams and group sizes.

Ideas for Why Return to Workplace Makes Sense

Some ideas for why returning to the office would be a good idea are:

  • Face-to-face environments are best for complex teamwork or work that involves problem solving or speed.
  • Workers can engage in projects that align with the corporate direction easier when they are onsite.
  • Leaders and managers can assess, mentor, and assign work better when they see people more often.
  • When it comes to instructions and mentoring, we often read body language to see what is resonating and which content to review in more depth. But, unfortunately, reading body language isn’t easy with video conferencing.
  • Corporate culture develops when people experience it together.
  • When people share a sense of purpose from working on projects of mutual importance, they experience positive energy and morale.
  • Being in person encourages us to build relationships and learn from each other.
  • Out of sight is out of mind. Even the most progressive company has difficulties promoting unobserved employees.
  • In summary, being more present is necessary for your professional advancement because you’ll be on the radar for the next cool project or sweet promotion.

Every employee had a different experience with working from home. Some had large homes with dedicated work areas, and some had to share their space with roommates or children. While some people enjoy not having a commute, others miss it and the separation of work and home life. In addition, many employees miss the camaraderie of working with others in the office. Many factors influence employees’ desire to come back to the office, and while all these factors matter, but not all do to the same degree.

Survey Employees for Their Return-To-Work Concerns

To get employee buy-in to return to the office, we need to see how concerned they are and what part of their job duties would be affected. Some of the questions to ask are:

  • What percentage of your time is spent on individual versus collaborative activities?
  • Where do you typically conduct the individual and collaborative activities?
  • What is the percentage for learning and getting feedback – individually, one-to-one, or in a group?
  • How well did your workplace support your individual, collaborative, and learning activities before COVID?
  • How comfortable are you with the support for these activities post-COVID?
  • What changes would you suggest to improve the workplace’s support for these activities?

Once you have the data from this survey and evaluated the responses, it is pretty easy to see the employees’ concerns for returning to work. A concise summary for management can help allocate resources to direct the efforts that need to happen to encourage employees back to the office. Additionally, employee turnover and finding new talented employees is a competitive game. If the employees you’re competing for are considering companies that have already addressed all these things, plus refurbished lobbies and good end-of-trip facilities. If you don’t, you’re immediately at a disadvantage in an employment market that’s going to be soft for a while.

Jefferson Group offers a Workplace Strategy program that handles all the surveying, data analysis, and recommendations for you.

How’s Your Back To Office Plan Coming Along?

The questions our program will help answer are:

  • What are our staff’s concerns about returning to the office?
  • When to plan for employees coming back to the office?
  • How much space will we need and where?
  • How to reconfigure the office furniture?
  • What additional furniture is needed?
  • What changes to policy and procedures need to happen?
  • How to inform the company stakeholders?

Learn More About Our Workplace Strategy Program

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