The return to office (RTO) is working.
Employees have warmed up to RTO, and companies are starting to see gains from having people on-site.
Almost two-thirds of employees say that returning to the office has improved their productivity, according to a survey from Resume Builder. And Gen Z employees are more likely than other generations to see it that way.
Return to office pushback
While 85% of employees go into the office at least once a week and most of them are getting more done, some employees are less than enthusiastic it. Almost 70% said they’d prefer to go in fewer days, the Resume Builder researchers found.
The pushback — and arguments against RTO — go back to the work from home (WFH) revolution.
“When Covid hit, everyone had to go home,” says Julie Burch, a trainer, speaker, humorist and President of Julie Burch Speaks! “We saw a spike in productivity … but that was adrenaline. It was crazy! Everyone was panicking! Of course, there was a spike in productivity. But once we started to say, ‘OK, we’re figuring this out,’ then we started to see it started to taper off.”
And it’s true. Productivity soared when people were forced home to work. But it was short-lived.
“The people who are fighting to stay working at home are the ones who point to the spike. The people who are saying, ‘I think we need a balance’ are the ones who are pointing to the flat line,” says Burch. “I think we need to be realistic and say we aren’t going to get that spike again. That’s not a realistic goal. We have to find that medium again.”
The best way to find that medium again: Help employees make the most of their time in the office and working from home.
Here are four strategies to maximize your hybrid work plan:
Emphasize on-site teamwork
The top reason productivity has improved is teams work more efficiently when they’re together, according to the Resume Builder survey. Employees said they get more quality work done with their colleagues when they work side-by-side. Plus, employees communicate better in the office.
“If everybody’s working in a silo, it’s a lot harder to get that kinetic energy,” Burch says.
Strategy: Encourage teams of all sizes and functions to schedule collaboration on an agreed-upon day or days in the office each week. Then, make it conducive for them to work together. That might mean creating more meeting space and reducing individual desk space. Or maybe you can make it easier for employees to stay on-site all day by bringing in food or other creative perks such as mobile car washing or connections to nearby childcare providers.
Once employees are done collaborating in the office, let them work quietly alone as much as they need. That’s a good idea because nearly half of employees say they’re more productive in the office because there are fewer distractions.
At home, they’re often pulled away from work by childcare and household needs. In the office, those distractions melt away!
Strategy: You might set “quiet hours” for the office — times each day employees shouldn’t schedule meetings or calls, keep hallway conversations to a minimum and work quietly. And if they must meet or chat, ask them have those behind closed doors.
Strengthen work/life integration
Remote and hybrid work revolutionized how businesses got things done, but those work arrangements still present have some issues. — and one that’s remained the same is the the work-life balance. Some employees — and their companies — still haven’t found it. In fact, nearly 80% of employees who feel they aren’t as productive in the office say the biggest reason is they struggle to find a work-life balance.
Strategy: Help employees understand and accept work/life integration which calls for no distinction between the two: Instead, they coexist in harmony. It’s different than work/life balance, which separates the two. Ask bosses to work with employees to find what’s best for each. For instance, integrators might prefer to handle email after hours because they’re less stressed and better equipped to tackle them then. Balancers may prefer four, 10-hour days with no overlap on work and life.
Keep an eye on progress
About 15% of employees in the Resume Builder survey said the return to a physical workplace worsened their productivity. But here’s what’s important to note: 25% of them admitted that’s because they resented their employer for forcing the RTO.
While you don’t want to make employees feel forced to do things they don’t want to, leaders still need to hold them accountable to their job expectations. If resentment holds them back, bosses will want to address it.
Strategy: Where possible, lean in to flexibility and fun. Marnix Broer, CEO & Co-Founder of Studocu gives an example: “We don’t force anyone to come to the office a set number of weekdays but instead have built a fun, inclusive environment with plenty of in-office perks, like chef-catered lunches and pet-friendly policies. We’re all happier in the office because we’re choosing to be there rather than being forced.”