In a world slowly trying to emerge from the threat of COVID-19 transmission, the uptake of effective vaccinations means that companies across the globe are attempting to coax their employees back into their offices. Undoubtedly, it is a natural reaction from companies who have likely been paying thousands upon thousands of dollars for office space that has remained unused since early 2020.
Many employees, on the other hand, are a little less keen to get moving back to the office. Having demonstrated a capability to work from home for over a year, there is some reluctance amongst the workforce to begin commuting again.
There is little doubt that throwing employees straight back into a full-time office routine would be careless in terms of psychological wellbeing. People are now used to the comforts of their home office set-up, and are cautious about mixing with hundreds of people in an office again.
Do employees want to return to the office?
A senior HR director has discussed how employees at their company can be split into three distinct groups:
- Ones that are excited to get back to the office ASAP and cannot wait to chat to people in person
- Ones that wouldn’t mind going back to the office but are not in any rush
- Ones that would prefer to continue working from home forever
As might be expected, the first category is home to more extroverts, while introverts tend to fall into the group of people that are unwilling to return to the office.
During this period, companies with the most empathetic managers will do a better job of pleasing employees that fall into all of the groups above. Managers will need to be careful not to make members of one group feel ignored, and flexibility about returning to the office may be necessary.
How can employees be encouraged to return to the office?
At tech companies like Contentful, all 550 employees are offered the chance to work from home during the majority of the time. They will be required to come into the office occasionally to enhance teamwork and keep a sense of unity within the team.
This ‘hybrid work model’, with shorter work weeks in the office, is going to be a popular solution with companies who want to address the desires of all their employees. One key to encourage office return is to not force a 5-day office work week on employees straight away.
Sometimes, a hybrid solution might not even be enough to keep all employees happy. In a letter addressed to Apple CEO Tim Cook, employees of the company voiced their concern over whether they could truly contribute their most and be a part of Apple if their colleagues’ appearances in the office are unpredictable.
It is going to be a delicate balance for many employers to encourage their employees to return to the office. A financial incentive might not even be enough for many people, as some have said that they would reject a $30,000 pay rise to return to the office.
To truly help employees feel they want to return to the office, it is going to take a deeper appreciation of work/life balance and cultivating a healthy office environment. Simply offering monetary incentives will not swing many workers who are so used to working from home.
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