More and more frequently we hear about new return-to-office (RTO) policies being implemented in businesses all over the world.
While this can be a good idea, many leaders focus so much on the potential benefits that they don’t see the inconvenience, frustration or anger of employees at the change. This mistake can fill the RTO transition with stress and turnover.
We’ve been working on a return to the office policy in our own organization, and through the process we’ve learned some valuable lessons on how to do it right (and what to avoid). If you’re considering implementing a return-to-office policy for your own employees, we want to share what we learned to make the transition as seamless for your organization as possible.
Why is a return to the office policy popular?
After many employees worked from home during and after the pandemic, it can be jarring and confusing when leaders ask people to return to the office. So why would these policies be growing in popularity in 2023?
Most leaders agree that the biggest benefit is increased collaboration. And they’re right: There’s no substitute for frequent face-to-face interactions with coworkers.
Here are some other potential benefits of returning to the office for work:
- Helps employees maintain a work-life separation. When working from home, some people struggle to clock out and unplug after work. Working in the office can help employees set boundaries by focusing on work while at work and home while at home.
- Reduces feelings of isolation. For many, working from home is a lonely endeavor. In fact, feelings of loneliness and isolation are the largest reported concern for remote employees, which can raise stress and lower engagement. Working in the office easily resolves those feelings.
- Potentially increases productivity. While some people seem to thrive working remotely, working in a focused space that’s designed to maximize productivity helps others stay productive. In-person meetings are also 34x more effective than emails.
These benefits can reach everyone, even for those employees who aren’t thrilled about returning to the office. But because some will be excited and others won’t be, that means you have to be careful when implementing that policy, or you may find yourself with a sharp decline in engagement and a spike in turnover.
Effectively implement RTO policy
In order to make returning to the office more palatable and easy for everyone, you’ll want to follow some specific strategies. These will help you enjoy the benefits of in-person work while avoiding the downsides of an unhappy workforce.
1. Communicate early and often
Everyone has unique circumstances that may affect how they handle in-person work — child care, vehicle availability, commute distance, etc. With an abrupt change to in-person work, stress for these people can shoot through the roof.
The best way to ease people into this transition is through a future implementation date. Give everyone at least a few weeks to prepare mentally and physically for going back into the office. This lets everyone work out their own situations without a looming deadline.
2. Offer flexibility where possible
Flexibility is expected in today’s workplaces. When flexibility is offered at a company, 87% of employees take advantage of it. So instead of enforcing rigid in-office policies, consider offering flexibility of some kind. This could be:
- Hybrid work options, where people can work from home a couple times each week
- Flexible schedules, where people can choose when they clock in and out each day, or
- Unlimited PTO, where people can take the time off that they need to rejuvenate.
For those who really enjoy remote work and aren’t looking forward to returning to the office, these flexible options can be the key that helps them maintain their work-life balance. Plus, it shows that you care about each employee’s situation and preferences instead of enforcing a blanket policy that smothers everyone.
3. Update your office
Gone are the days when employees would meekly accept 40 hours a week stuck in a soulless cubicle. People expect more, and if you’re planning on mandating a RTO policy, you have to create an office space that excites and rewards people for being there. Some ideas include:
- Ditch the cubicles and offer more open, collaborative spaces
- Create focus zones where anyone can go to be in a quiet, more focused space
- Offer perks that make coming into the office easier for everyone, such as commuting cost reimbursement, subsidized meals, and healthy snacks, and
- Invest in better office equipment and technology tools to make work more comfortable and efficient.
Creating a space where employees enjoy working will naturally lead to more people being okay with spending their time there.
Return to the office the right way
Both in-person and remote work have benefits, and some employees will prefer one while others prefer the other. If you think in-person work is the right move for your business, following these strategies will help you get as many people as possible on board. With preparation time, flexibility, and an awesome office, most people will accept the change with good grace.