How to Get Employees Excited About Returning to the Office
It’s been three years since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet many of us are still working from home. Whilst numerous lockdowns and government advice forced employees to retreat from offices to the relative safety of their own homes during the pandemic, why are we still here all this time later? Inevitably, home-workers tend to enjoy the time saved on commuting, money saved on pricey office spaces, and having home comforts at hand. But is this still the most advantageous form of working, really? New research strongly suggests the contrary, demonstrating that a return to the office is likely to have great benefits on productivity, communication, and even mental health.
In this article, we will explain some of the reasons why employees should return to the office, suggest some advice on how to encourage your workforce to return to non-remote work, and provide tips for employees heading back to the office to ensure a smooth transition.
Why Should Employees Return to the Office?
Although there were a myriad of studies released during the coronavirus pandemic that sang the praises of remote or hybrid work, suggesting that this form of working created happier, more productive employees, newer research from today’s post-pandemic world is starting to demonstrate that the opposite may actually be true.
Whilst immediate results of changing to a more remote form of working may have seemed positive, we’re now starting to see the more long-term effects which paint an altogether different picture. To get a glimpse of how employees felt about home-working during the pandemic, read our article on the challenges and benefits of working from home, here.
Does Working from Home Decrease Productivity?
As we’ve had time to collect and monitor data from employees working from home over the past few years, more accurate insights into their productivity are now coming forth, and these show some interesting results.
One example of this is a working paper published by two doctoral students from Harvard who, during 2020, found an 8% increase in the number of calls handled per hour by employees of an online retailer that had made the move to home working. Upon revising their study with more precise data in 2023, however, they found that this initial increase had actually become a 4% decline in productivity, with fewer calls being answered than in the office as well as lower quality interactions. So, what factors of remote working contribute most to this loss in productivity?
Less Efficient Communication
We’ve all gotten used to dealing with the complexities of virtual meetings, and whilst it can seem nice to interact with colleagues among their pets and plants, with their favourite mug in hand, there’s no denying that speaking through a screen and at the mercy of your internet connection has its difficulties.
Remote work strips colleague communication of the subtle non-verbal cues and natural flow of discussion that makes up the bulk of normal conversation. In fact, inevitable time lags and the inability to hear multiple people talk at once on virtual calls, makes truly effective collaboration nigh on impossible.
Difficulty Building and Maintaining Professional Relationships
As well as decreasing the efficiency of communication, home working removes any spontaneity from workplace conversations. Whereas in an office it’s common to overhear and jump into conversations on impulse, remote conversations are mainly meticulously planned and are invite only. This makes it difficult to build solid professional relationships, as communication with employees outside of your team becomes sporadic if not scheduled in. Additionally, online meetings with strict agendas restrict the personal aspects of conversation that can help to build and strengthen workplace relationships.
Inhibition of Innovation
Whilst online work inhibits relationship-building, it can prevent employees from being truly innovative. This is due to a restriction in focus, a key element of innovation. Constant work notifications, such as messages on slack, and distractions from family at home can make it hard to truly focus on one task and get the creative juices flowing. Without innovation, however, employees can feel like they’re running in circles and lacking in motivation.
Decrease in Mental Health
The common consensus is that remote working has improved mental health by restoring workers’ work-life balance and giving employees more time to get outside, spend time with family, and exercise. In many cases, however, this may not be the reality. To start with, blurring the lines between work and home can make it difficult for many employees to ‘switch-off’. This lack of boundaries has been found to increase stress in home workers, with one study finding that 41% of remote workers felt stressed compared to only 25% of those continuing to work from an office.
Furthermore, it can be isolating to work from home in comparison to an office filled with people to communicate and connect with daily. As a result, remote working can increase feelings of loneliness, which can considerably impact mental health.
It’s generally agreed that regular feedback and advice is essential for growth and development, but home-workers are shown to receive significantly less feedback than those in offices. As a result, those working remotely are likely to progress in their professional development far slower.
One recent study found that remote workers spend 25% less time on career development than their office counterparts. It’s also been noted that many skills, particularly soft skills such as leadership, are mainly learnt through observation. With home-workers being isolated from their colleagues, they’re less able to learn from their peers.
How to Encourage Employees to Return to the Office
Although there are disadvantages to remote working, 82% of people say that they prefer working from home to going back to the office. Therefore, it’s evident that employees may need to be provided with motivation to return.
Ultimately, many workers are reluctant to return to the office as they’re worried it’ll mean giving up the perks of remote working. Encouraging employees to return to the office is therefore mainly a case of outlining the benefits of an office environment, and adapting your workplace so that it proves a worthy rival to people’s own homes.
Communicate Clearly and Honestly
Firstly, it’s essential to clearly communicate why you’d like employees to return to the office. Transparency is key to employee engagement, and therefore being totally honest about your reasons for making this change is likely to receive the best response.
Use Factual Evidence and Statistics
As the quote goes, ‘you can’t argue with facts’. Using hard evidence for asking employees to return to the office will strengthen your case, particularly if some of your statistics are taken from your employees themselves; Why not create a survey for employees to complete and use the results in your line of reasoning.
For example, being able to firmly declare that ‘X% of our team has shared that they feel lonely at home’, or that ‘X% of our team find collaboration easier in the office’ makes a compelling argument for returning to non-remote work. Including your employees’ own opinions within your decision will also help them to feel involved, rather than merely instructed. To find other methods of effectively motivating your team, read our article here.
Introduce New Benefits
Understandably, employees may be reluctant to give up the benefits of home-working without receiving any compensation or alternative advantages. Introducing new benefits such as a transportation or child care stipend may help to make office work more manageable for those who have gotten used to saving money in these areas by working from home.
Additionally, creating new ways to make the office more enticing, such as social events, provided lunches or pet-friendly areas, may incentivise more workers to swap the perks of home-work for those of being in the office. Introducing regular team-building activities will help to strengthen bonds within teams and help to create a company culture that your employees want to experience in-person daily. You can find some ideas for team building activities which could help to incentivise employees in our article, here.
Optimise Your Office Space
Returning to working in a closed office cubicle isn’t going to be an exciting prospect for anyone. Instead, to encourage employees to return to the office, it’s a good idea to ensure it’s an inviting space that people want to be in.
Consider redesigning your office to maximise both productivity and fun. One idea is to separate your office into different areas designed specifically for various activities. For example, having designated deep-work sections, huddle areas, standing desks, social areas including games and comfy seating, and more.
Create a Hybrid Work Schedule
Asking every employee to immediately return to the office full time may be a difficult transition for many. Instead, try to phase in a return to the office and offer structured flexibility for those that need it.
You could try a hot-desking system where employees sign up to work in the office on certain days, can book office space, and see which other employees will also be in the office at the same time as them. This encourages teams to coordinate their office time to get the benefits of collaboration and team-building on office days, whilst also reaping the benefits of sometimes still working from home.
Tips for Returning to the Office
It’s important to remember that returning to the office will seem like a big change for some, particularly as some newer employees may never have worked in an office environment before. With this in mind, here are a few tips for ensuring everyone is prepared to return to the workplace and are comfortable when doing so.
Ease into the New Routine
Having to commute to an office involves more time management and preparation than having your workspace within your home. As such, it’s important to consider the extra time it will take to commute to work once you return to the office and slowly adapt to waking up earlier so that it’s not a shock to the system when you have to suddenly factor that extra time into your day.
Additionally, it’s important to think about mealtimes at the office, as you may not have a full kitchen and your favourite ingredients readily available there as you would at home. It may be wise to plan what you will pack for your lunches and do some food preparation at the start of the week to avoid this becoming an added stress in your day.
Decorate Your Workspace
It’s easier to work in a space that you feel comfortable in, so don’t be shy in decorating your desk within the office to really make it your own. Bringing in a few home comforts such as plants and photos can help to make your workspace feel more joyous and motivational, and make the transition between working from home and at the office less of a leap.
Take Enough Rest Breaks
It can feel intimidating to take regular breaks whilst working in an office, as you’re constantly surrounded by other people who seem hard at work. But taking frequent breaks to relax and stretch your legs is just as vital in the office as it is at home, if not more so.
To learn more about the importance of rest breaks and the regulations surrounding them in the workplace, read our article here. For employers, it’s essential to ensure that the office break room has everything that employees will need, such as comfortable seating and facilities to make drinks or snacks.
Learn Methods to Help Manage Stress and Anxiety
Change is always scary, and therefore making the move back into the workplace from home-working may create or compound feelings of stress and anxiety. Although these feelings may seem overwhelming or unmanageable, there are a number of methods you can try to help deal with these emotions and avoid them from impacting your daily life.
Want to Learn More?
To discover some suggested ways of dealing with difficult emotions, read our articles on coping with stress or anxiety at work. Additionally, you can discover more ways to promote positive mental health in the workplace, here.
One of the major downsides of remote working is that it restricts effective communication. If you’re making a return to office work, now is your chance to make the most of being able to discuss things face to face with your colleagues at any time. Getting to know the other employees in your company and widening your network of support will only enrich your working experience, make coming to work more enjoyable, and provide further opportunities for growth and development.
If you have any concerns about returning to the office or have any suggestions for how to improve the workspace, you should voice these to the relevant person so that they can get resolved as soon as possible.
There are many merits of working from an office that, if we’re being honest, just can’t be properly replicated when working remotely. As such, it’s time to start thinking about encouraging employees to return to the office. It’s important to do this correctly though, and ensure that employees are motivated and can benefit from this change. Remember, an immediate return to office-work full time may be infeasible for some, so consider taking a soft approach such as implementing hybrid or flexible working schemes.
- Weekly Working From Home Structure: Free Schedule Template
- Health & Safety For Home Workers
- Business Essentials Courses