- Companies are bringing employees back into the office without concrete, post-pandemic policies and changing return dates on a whim.
- Many employees still want the flexibility and freedom of working from home but also the collaborative value of the traditional office.
- Business leaders must be transparent and communicative about future workplace strategies, innovate new ways of using workspaces, and envision a new office for the future of work.
Companies have been sketching out plans to return to the office (RTO) almost since the pandemic began, it seems.
Following increased accessibility to vaccinations, corporations and small businesses alike were gearing to welcome employees back into the workplace after Labor Day weekend in September.
However, the emerging Delta variant caused businesses to halt their return-to-office plans all over again, making a comeback in 2021 seem increasingly unlikely.
The repeated pattern of new variants like Omicron has forced leaders to reconsider what the future of work will actually look like.
In fact, Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms, Inc., which already has offices open in a limited capacity for vaccinated workers, plans to fully reopen offices at the end of January. Nevertheless, it will allow some employees to delay returning to the office until June.
The company has already given most of its employees the remote work option as CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he plans to spend up to half of the year working remotely.
Meta’s “office deferral program” recognizes that some employees might not be ready to RTO.
“For those wishing to return in January we look forward to providing a vibrant office experience that continues to prioritize health and safety,” said Janelle Gale, a vice president of human resources at Meta.
“We also recognize that some aren’t quite ready to come back.” Gale said.
While many leaders hoped it would be simple to bypass making any significant changes to workplace arrangements or operations, it’s clear that the health crisis is not over.
Although some companies have come to terms with the need to make adjustments, those that do not have a strategy in place could face the grim reality that waiting until after Covid could hinder their retention.
Creating a solid, safe return-to-office policy is no longer a nice thought.
It’s an absolute necessity if businesses want to be able to thrive now and in the future.
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this challenge. That’s why business leaders need to reflect on what returning to the office means to the company, and why it might be necessary.
What Does Returning To The Office Mean?
Coming back into the office will vary across industries and companies.
For many of those within the financial industry, executives are eager to return to pre-pandemic normalcy and have firmly rejected the prospect of more flexible arrangements in the future.
Even Goldman Sachs’ CEO David Solomon called remote working “an aberration.”
At the same time, soon forcing workers to return to the office over the summer, the company announced it would be giving entry-level marketers a pay raise after.
Even the most red-blooded corporations understand that bringing employees back must come with an incentive.
On the other hand, several technology firms such as Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter have all determined that changes to workplace operations will be completely necessary in order to support the needs of workers and the business itself.
For example, Google laid out its post-pandemic workplace strategy that would see employees come into the office three days a week and others working remotely.
This type of hybrid policy has emerged as one of the most popular models among companies, providing workers the ability to split their time between working from home and in the office.
However, in light of the new Omicron variant, the company delayed its return-to-office indefinitely.
The company said that as a result of this ongoing uncertainty, their return-to-office policy could see changes in the future and that it wants to find a “stable, long-term working environment.”
Although the statement appears vague and a delay is inevitable, it could be good news for employees. The technology giant recently faced backlash over pay cuts for remote workers who move to a region with a lower cost of living, but it’s clear that the company has not solidified its strategy yet.
Other firms are taking a more drastic approach to the future of work.
Twitter and Slack announced early on that most employees who were able to work remotely could do so for the foreseeable future.
Future work strategies of each company widely differ, but it’s essential for leaders to explore the best approach that is beneficial for both the business and employees in the long run.
Downsides Of Returning To The Office
Many employees have raved about the benefits of working from anywhere over the last two years, and many are not willing to give up this flexibility just yet.
For instance, studies have found that the biggest benefits to working remotely include:
- Fewer distractions
- Reduced work-related stress
- Flexible schedules
- Improved mental health
- Increased productivity
- Less commutes
- Better work-life balance
So how does that translate in an era when leaders are eager to bring workers back into the office?
Without methodical planning and introducing new incentives, leaders may be in a sticky situation with unhappy workers.
Who could blame them?
The last thing workers want is to return to the stagnant cubicle they left behind in early 2020.
Plus, those returning to the office will likely have to readjust to lengthy, often stressful commutes.
Even more, the work-life balance they have achieved by working from home will also be lost. This means less time to spend with loved ones and personal hobbies, and more time thinking about the work day, which doesn’t necessarily equate to increased productivity.
Being forced to come back into the office could also cause workers to relinquish the autonomy that has allowed them to work at their best time.
Companies that have made little to no updates to their workspace also risk hurting the productivity of workers who find that the environment is not beneficial to their overall work day.
Ignoring what employees would be sacrificing by being forced back into the office goes beyond having displeased workers — it could mean losing them altogether.
In fact, research from the Harvard Business Review shows that 40% of U.S. employees would look for another job or resign if they were forced to return to the office full-time.
However, there can be compromise during this transition, but leaders must be willing to listen.
How To Avoid The Pitfalls Of Returning To The Office
You don’t need a stethoscope to hear what workers want from the office.
Studies and research that have been conducted over the last few years have all come to one general conclusion: employees want a say in their work arrangement.
In fact, FlexJobs’ 10th Annual Survey conducted between July and August of 2021 showed that 58% of workers wanted to remain full-time after the pandemic, while 39% stated wanting a hybrid work environment.
So in order to avoid putting your company at risk for turnover, it will be essential to listen to what workers need from their work environment.
Give Employees A Voice
Historically, employees have had little say in their workplace preferences.
However, now that they have been given the opportunity to speak their truth, they are not holding back.
One method of encouraging open discussion about work preferences is to conduct an anonymous internal survey of employees to have a deeper understanding of what they require from their work environment.
Finding a solution that balances both the demands of workers and the needs of the company is possible – it will just take strategy.
While this may not come in the form of full-time remote working, hybrid arrangements can help companies find a middle ground that appeases both parties.
However, if a company opts for a hybrid arrangement, they should also be prepared to invest in the resources necessary to make this model operate seamlessly.
Investing In The Right Tools
Some businesses that are adopting flexible work policies have turned to flexible workspaces or coworking spaces outside of city centers to accommodate these models.
Workers who maintain a shorter commute, as well as have a place to meet clients or collaborate with like-minded professionals, can come into these offices for a more professional environment.
But companies should also keep in mind that a distributed workforce can lead to higher security risks.
That’s why to ensure that hybrid operations remain secure, companies should look into companies such as Salto KS, which offers businesses reliable cloud-based access control to workspaces, no matter where they are located.
Beyond investing into a secure workspace for distributed workers, leaders should also fine-tune their technology offerings to support the workforce, such as:
- Video conferencing that keeps employees engaged
- Cloud computing for easy access to work documents no matter where an employee is located
- Scheduling software that makes it easy to plan meetings, as well as pick up and trade shifts
- Communication tools to make connecting with colleagues simple
- Collaborative software that supports organized, asynchronous work
Without these tools, remote workers may find themselves focusing more on troubleshooting with IT, which interrupts their workflow and takes time away from their productivity.
In fact, a 2019 research from insurance company Willis Towers Watson showed that 32% of UK employees believe technology contributes to workplace stress.
Among those who were stressed, 46% stated this derived from a lack of reliable technology.
Although additional workplace investments during this time may seem obstructive to business growth, the added benefit of improved productivity, higher employee satisfaction, and subsequently increased profits cannot be matched.
Opening Communication Lines
By far one of the most important skills to improve upon during this tricky transition is communication.
Allowing employees to openly ask questions about new workplace policies without fear of repercussion will be essential moving forward.
High levels of communication should not be overlooked, as research from McKinsey confirms that employers who are transparent with employees see an overall increase in worker wellbeing.
Even more, the firm found that “organizations that convey more detailed, remote-relevant policies and approaches see greater increases” in employees:
- Feeling supported
- Feeling included
- Being productive
Despite this knowledge, the research showed that just 40% of employees have yet to hear any post-pandemic workplace plans from their employer, and 28% said anything they have heard has been vague.
While it might seem necessary to have a fully realized post-pandemic strategy to relay to employees, what workers really want is to understand each step of the process.
Even if that means, “We are not sure yet and are still finding the best solution.”
Being transparent about navigating this era of adjustments humanizes the company, thus showing workers that this is a learning experience for all, and that their input is valuable during this time.
It May Be Time To Move On
Undeniably, the needs of employers and employees will not always align.
Workers may find that they want to continue working remotely, while companies may decide that this is not plausible for their operations.
In this case, many online remote job marketplaces have ramped up their services in recent years to make it easier for professionals to seek work arrangements that are suitable for their lifestyle.
For instance, Flexjobs offers both job seekers and employers a seamless want to find and post remote and flexible positions.
Using platforms like Flexjobs makes it so companies can find talent that aligns with their workplace policies, and professionals can seek the best remote or flexible position that suits their lifestyle.
Returning To The Office Is Not Linear
The concept of the workplace has changed drastically over the last few years.
Although many companies have already started bringing employees back into the office, challenges in this transition could be detrimental to business operations.
Leaders have a responsibility to be honest about their post-pandemic workplace strategies, and employees should get the opportunity to speak their truth.
Inevitably, this will mean experimenting with new arrangements and adjusting as necessary.
And that is just fine.
The most important features of the modern workplace are open communication and technology implementation, especially for businesses making the transition to more flexible workplace practices.
Without incorporating these traits, companies may risk losing their top talent and fall victim to the ongoing Great Resignation.
In order to stay resilient in the era of a tight labor market and give employees a real reason to return to the office, employers must stay agile, transparent, and flexible.
- How do you ask to work from home?
- Depending on your employer, methods of requesting remote working positions will vary. Some companies may only offer remote work for specific roles through an internal system. Others are more informal and can be approached through HR departments.
- Do I have to return to the office?
- This depends on your willingness and position. If an employer is forcing workers to return to the office, an employee can reject this, but face losing their job.
- Can my boss make me return to the office?
- Technically, yes. Employers have the right to request that you return to the office if they deem it necessary for your role and the company as a whole.
- Can I legally request to work from home?
- Yes, a request to work from home is legal and can be applicable depending on your employer’s policies.
- How do I request to work remotely?
- Requesting to work remotely can be done through various methods, including through your company’s HR department or internal software that allows workers to submit such requests.