10 May 2023

Getting Employees Back in the Office

By: Guillermo Gonzalez, Jr. | Vice President, Employee Benefits

After Elon Musk announced the return of in-person work at Twitter and Bob Iger said the same at Disney, CEOs have begun taking a stricter position on return-to-office timelines. But before your company follows suit, ask yourself one question. “Should it?”

While it may be tempting to revert to the old model simply because that was what was done, it’s important to interrogate the why behind the decision and determine if a return to in-person work is best for your company’s goals. You may find a team of effective remote workers is more suited to your company’s structure.

During the pandemic, many organizations found they didn’t need to maintain large office spaces, and margins improved from reduced overhead as work was achieved remotely. Conversely, collaboration and teamwork may have suffered because people couldn’t go into each other’s offices and brainstorm ideas.

If fostering a culture of co-worker collaboration and teamwork represents your overall mission as an organization, and returning to in-person work supports this, then communicating the reasoning behind the decision to your team is essential.

The pandemic shutdown inspired many workers to trade in densely populated cities for spacious country living. As remote work became our “new normal” and workforce decks were shuffled, many businesses found their employees were no longer in the same zip code. And since top talent was no longer huddled in major cities, companies faced national competition when hiring.

Before mandating in-person work is necessary at your company, look at where your employees are based. You may find your top performers are scattered around the country. Possibly, the world. Requiring those employees to show up on Monday morning could result in paying relocation fees or losing those valued assets entirely.

For workers who’ve relocated to return to where your business is based, it could mean selling one’s house, buying a new house, and uprooting kids from school. Not everybody is going to want to make those concessions.

Part of determining if a return to in-person work is the right decision for your company is evaluating the employee experience resulting from it. Gallup recently found that worker dissatisfaction and disengagement are at all all-time highs, and these negative sentiments aren’t from the nature of the work but how they experience it.

For instance, does a return to the office demand dressing for success and a commute through rush-hour traffic? If so, several hours could be added to an employee’s workday – hours workers aren’t paid for – and subtracted from family or personal time at home.

If those employees have children or dependent family members in their care, they may need to find help which often carries a hefty price tag.

Many working parents today are able to maintain dual incomes and juggle family duties because of the flexibility and lack of commute that remote work provides. If a return to office (RTO) order is issued, those working parents may face the difficult position of leaving the workforce to avoid the high costs of childcare.  A position that, according to American Progress, typically falls on working mothers as the childcare crisis continues to keep women out of the workforce.

Remote work also opened new possibilities for people with accessibility difficulties who previously couldn’t fill the role when on-site participation was required. If coming into the office becomes a requirement of employment, you may lose this valued asset.

As you consider these factors, look for ways to support your working parents and employees with accessibility difficulties while communicating the value you place in connecting with colleagues in person. Helping your team understand your decision to return to in-person work will play a significant role in how successful those efforts are.

If your company has been testing the waters of RTO mandates and there’s been pushback from your team, understanding what your employees like and dislike about working on-site could make this transition easier for everybody. When leadership connects with employees, gather their input on which processes are more productive remotely and which interactions can benefit from an in-person day onsite.

Creative roles are often collaborative and can benefit from spit-balling ideas and plumbing ideas to their extent. But if your business has an employee who works on a computer all day, it may not matter if they’re posted at their kitchen table or in a cubicle beneath fluorescent lights.

The adage tells us, “What gets measured gets managed.” So, when considering individual performance at your business, what are you measuring? Are there daily/weekly metrics for individuals to hit? If so, requiring someone to drive an hour to the office to open their laptop so you can see them working may not be necessary. Management would only need to review their work log to confirm their productivity. Saving everybody time.

If you have performance metrics in place but feel the need to micromanage people onsite, evaluate your screening and hiring practices to identify and retain your star employees. Top performers succeed in a supportive environment with coaching focused on small course corrections, not large yanks on the wheel.

After gathering feedback on what your employees dislike about working on-site, find ways to add value to your staff’s on-site experience and include benefits employees want in 2023.

It could be as simple as offering a hybrid work schedule or custom hours that allow workers to commute at off-peak times. From there, additional upgrades could be installing electric car chargers in the company parking lot or providing on-site childcare for working parents.

Ultimately, the decision to shift from remote to on-site work comes down to the business and its individuals. When luring people back to the office, flexibility is key. Remote work isn’t going anywhere, and trying to mandate a nine-to-five Monday-to-Friday schedule may not deliver the culture of collaboration and teamwork you’re hoping to foster. Instead, it may lead to resentment and resignation.