Return to the office

Returning to the office…some of the time

Sam Tucker

Mar 28, 2022

After a long-awaited reopening, people can finally get back into offices and this time it might actually last. Throughout the pandemic, there has been a variety of stances taken by companies and employees on hybrid working and while some ditched their offices completely most are committed to maintaining them as central hubs for creativity, communication and collaboration and to be home to company culture.

A lot of office managers are nervous about trying to get their teams to return to the office for fear of upsetting the current balance that has been working well but if done properly and on the employee’s own terms then there are huge benefits all around.

Every employee and every company is different but many things remain the same. Companies must give their employees transparency, autonomy and create an inclusive environment if they want to retain talent going forwards.

What are the benefits of getting people back to the office?

Employees, especially younger employees nearer the start of their careers or people who have relocated often rely on the workplace for making friends and meeting people. In an increasingly digital world, it’s more important than ever to provide these opportunities. Getting out of the house, getting exercise and fresh air on one’s commute as well as having a change of scene can also have a huge impact when it comes to reducing anxiety and improving people’s general mental wellbeing.

Secondly, when asking oneself if the graduates, apprentices et al. have the same opportunity for learning in the Zoom age as their counterparts did 5 years previously, there is a reasonably obvious answer. Without being in the office at least some of the time people miss out on the opportunity to sit in meetings, observe more senior employees in action or listen in on important discussions. Similarly, they might struggle to form meaningful relationships with mentors or their more experienced counterparts. The ability to train and promote from within is a superpower that many of the best companies all over the world have honed. Although the CEO and leadership team may be organising to meet up for lunch on Whatsapp — it’s unlikely that the junior managers or new joiners are on that group chat.

A study from Microsoft has shown throughout the pandemic that although intra-team relationships may have become stronger, inter-team connectivity has suffered and in general employees have a much narrower view about what is going on in the company or department. Throughout the study, they found that cross-group collaboration “dropped by about 25% in comparison to pre-pandemic levels”. Culture and serendipity are missing. Without this, many companies are going to struggle to motivate the workforce and keep morale high. Long live the office — some of the time.

What’s slowing people down?

Pre-pandemic, people came into the office a) because they had to but b) because they wanted the desk, fast wifi, ergonomic chairs and the free coffee or after-work drinks. Those pulls no longer exist for the most part but people are still more than keen to come to the office if they know that other people are going to be there or for a specific event.

Our data has shown that people can easily become disenfranchised with the idea of in-person work — it only takes a couple of long commutes to a deserted space before people just won’t take their chances again and there are only so many “Are you coming in tomorrow?” messages one person can send.

How to encourage people back on their own terms?

If you want people to come back to your office then it’s imperative that there is some light-touch organisation in place in order to make things transparent and inclusive.

We’ve heard countless stories about people commuting (sometimes for over an hour!) just to arrive at the office and spend all day on Zoom with their teammates who stayed at home. For those who live close to the office this might not be the end of the world but with teams becoming increasingly distributed it’s important to take people who live further afield into consideration.

It’s important to show each person what value they will get out of the office on a given day — who else is going to be there (friends, colleagues, bosses, new joiners) and what’s going on (lunch, drinks, meetings, interviews) plus any other important details about available space or hybrid working policies. Individuals can plan to work where they work best — intertwining their work lives with their personal lives; resulting in ultimate flexibility.

Mistakes worth avoiding

  1. Not taking a stance. It may not be possible to please absolutely everyone but reaching a general consensus with your team and setting a clear vision for the future will help

  2. When hiring, set expectations from the beginning (yes, that means in the job description) — how often do people HAVE to come in (if at all), how much space is available, how often do people choose to come in, where is the office etc. (if you don’t have these stats — check out the analytics we give our customers 😉)

  3. On someone’s first day — alert their team. Should they come into the office, do they have all the equipment they need. Do they know where to sit? The list goes on. First impressions count.

  4. Don’t ignore the data. We’ve often seen that surveys about people’s thoughts on hybrid working often don’t perfectly translate to what actually happens. That’s totally fine but it’s important to keep track of what people want and what’s going on so you can adapt your strategy and office.

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