How To Encourage Employees To Return To The Office On Their Own Terms

by Tiffany Bloodworth Rivers on April 1, 2021
Employee Experience Defines Business Success In The Hybrid Workplace

You’ve spent months making plans to safely reopen — but what if your employees are reluctant to return to the office?

While some might have lingering concerns about staying healthy, others may just be reluctant to change the routines they’ve established over the past year. They’ve replaced their daily commutes with an extra hour of sleep, exercise, or more quality time with their families.

You don’t want to demand that everyone return to the office five days a week, but your company can’t afford to pay for a building that’s more than half empty most days.

You’ve also noticed your company culture isn’t as strong as it once was. It takes more time for new employees to feel fully onboarded. Managers don’t find out about performance issues or general discontent until someone reaches a breaking point. You can’t remember when your company introduced its last great idea.

What can you do to encourage employees to return to the office because they want to, not because they have to?

Offer flexibility with guidelines around how to return to the office

Research shows most employees do want to spend three to five days in the office each week. Only about 12% want to work from home permanently. While giving your workforce more flexibility can contribute to a positive employee experience, it’s not such a great experience if someone spends 45 minutes commuting only to find themselves in an office that’s mostly empty.

Now is the time to set some ground rules around when employees are expected to be available to collaborate in person or remotely. This may depend on several factors, including the job they do and how far they live from the office.

If you don’t already have a remote work policy, now is the time to create one. This will help you set expectations for both employees and managers regarding when it’s permissible to work remotely, who may need to be notified, and whether employees need to reserve workspaces when they plan to come into the office.

Dropbox implemented an approach it calls “virtual first”, meaning remote work is the default experience, but teams are still expected to have regular in-person meetings at studio spaces closer to home.

Giving employees a mix of different types of workspaces in various locations makes the idea of coming to the office more appealing.

Find new ways to connect in person

It’s hardly surprising, but Gensler’s research affirms that what employees miss most about being away from the office is interacting with their colleagues.

When most of your workforce came to the office every day, there were more opportunities for casual interactions at the coffee machine or in the breakroom. Now that your workplace will likely have more variable schedules and flexible seating, you’ll need to find new, creative ways to help everyone reconnect.

In a recent webinar, Verdantix Smart Buildings Industry Analyst Dayann Charles Jeyamohan said more organizations are beginning to encourage employees to participate in local community service opportunities and team-building activities.

Many are also offering paid time off for volunteering. Nearly half of US companies offered this employee benefit in 2018, a 40% increase from the previous four years.

Activities where employees can see the impact of their collective efforts, such as participating in a food drive at the office or building a house through Habitat for Humanity nearby, can give them a greater sense of purpose and meaning.

It can also forge friendships that make them more likely to continue coming back to the office.

Offer mentorship and training opportunities in the office

Training and development may have been among the first budget cuts many companies made during the pandemic. Now is the time to consider bringing them back.

Hosting regular company-wide training programs at your company headquarters gives everyone a reason to get back together. Your office is also a great place for employees to find mentors, whether it’s through formal mentorship programs or more casual interactions.

Nine out of 10 employees who have a career mentor say they’re happier with their jobs, according to a CNBC survey.

This is particularly important when it comes to attracting Millennials and Gen Z employees.

A recent Gallup report showed 55% of Millennials are not engaged at work. And 59% said opportunities to learn and grow are extremely important to them when they’re applying for a job.

A mentorship program that pairs newer employees with more senior members of your team can be a great way to encourage regular in-person meetings. You can establish a framework for the program that includes suggested meeting times and events — such as monthly catered lunches — while allowing the mentors and mentees to set their own goals.

Create personalized employee experiences to encourage a return to the office

The latest Verdantix report makes it clear that the future of the employee experience is personalization.

Every employee has different reasons for wanting to return to the office and distinct expectations about what it should offer. Some employees want a quiet place to work without the distractions of their home, while others come specifically for social interaction.

Providing a variety of spaces and amenities in your new, reimagined workplace will help you exceed their expectations. Make it easy for them to find and reserve those spaces or access workplace services with a user-friendly mobile app. Because employees’ needs and expectations are always evolving, it’s important to monitor workplace utilization patterns so you can make adjustments as needed.

If your sensor data shows peak utilization of your employee cafeteria is at 12:30, providing more grab-and-go options for people during that time could ease the flow of traffic.

Viewing sensor data within the context of your floor plans can also help you determine when you may need to reconfigure spaces that are too crowded or underutilized.

iOFFICE’s integrated experience management system (iXMS) is designed to connect workplace leaders and employees, creating a continual feedback loop between them. While employees use a mobile app to access space and services, leaders get valuable insights they can use to better optimize their workplace.

When employees feel more at home in the office, they’ll be more eager to come back to it.

For more recommendations on how to create a great employee experience for both on-site and remote employees, download the full Verdantix report.


Tiffany Bloodworth Rivers

Tiffany covers leadership and marketing topics and enjoys learning about how technology shapes our industry. Before iOFFICE, she worked in local news but don't hold that against her.

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