March 18, 2021

How to get employees to come back to the office

COVID-19 made flexible working the norm for many businesses. With lockdowns and social distancing becoming standard across Australia, many of us had no option but to work from home. But now, as the caseload dwindles, restrictions ease and the vaccine gets rolled out, many managers and business owners want to get their employees to come back to the office. We look at what you need to do if you’re one of them.

The benefits of working from an office

The case for flexible working has been well documented. It can help attract and retain talent. Studies have shown it can also improve morale and job satisfaction and that this lifts productivity rather than hindering it.

It’s also inclusive. Flexible working provides a more level playing field to those employees with major commitments, such as parents of young children, who struggle to juggle childcare and other parts of their lives. It can benefit more geographically remote employees and give you a wider talent pool to draw on. As I’ve written before, you’re more likely to see women in leadership roles and bridge the gender divide – so much so that Bain has called flexibility one of the enablers for gender parity.

The benefits of being back in the office

But let’s not forget that there are benefits to being back in the office too – and many of us have come to appreciate these more over the past 12 months.

For starters, being in a workplace gives us much needed social connection. That’s something that’s vital for our mental health. As Beyond Blue notes, connecting with others can help can help ward off anxiety and depression.

It can also be an important factor in helping create collegiality between team members, fostering a common purpose that’s aligned to your business objectives and helping you build a strong workplace culture.

Working in close proximity to others is great for creativity too. People have the opportunity to bounce ideas off each informally other in a way they can’t when everyone’s working from home. This can lead to better processes, greater efficiency and even new products and services.

Finally, just as working from home can be inclusive, so too can working from the office. COVID-19 showed us that not everyone is well equipped to deal with flexible working in the same way. We don’t all have home offices. Some of us have to work in the kitchen or lounge room. Some even live in share houses or cramped quarters.

Working from home is especially disadvantageous for younger or early-career workers. Not only are these the employees who often take advantage of the social side of the workplace, they are also the ones who derive the most benefit from the face-to-face guidance and mentoring that the workplace can bring.

What’s the right approach to flexible working post-COVID?

I think it’s fair to say that the world will never go back to what it was pre-COVID, when the default was simply to work from the office full-time. But I think we should all be open to a more balanced approach, where the workplace and flexible working go hand-in-hand. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing thing.

For that reason, I believe the right thing for many businesses to do is to offer a blended working week, people the option of working flexibly some days but then also have days where they’re expected to be in the office, within reason.

How to get employees to come back to the office

With that in mind, here are my six tips for getting your employees back into the office more regularly.

1. Think flexibly yourself

Many employers tell me that a two/three split works well for them, where people are expected to be in the office Monday-to-Wednesday but then have the option of working flexibly on Thursday and Friday. That way, you can get all the benefits of the workplace but all the benefits of flexible working too.

2. Communicate why it matters

If you want people to come back, let them know why it’s important.  Nothing is more important than communication when it comes to keeping everyone motivated and on the same page.

3. Keep up the autonomy where you can

One of the reasons flexible working proved such a hit with many employees during the pandemic was often their newfound freedom to work how and when they want. Employees were often suddenly trusted to do their work and most rose to the challenge. In fact, one survey found that Australians were the world’s most productive flexible workers.

Many other surveys put autonomy number one on most workers’ wish list, even ahead of salary. So, if you can keep some of that – say letting people start and finish early or late to suit their commitments and rhythms, it should go a long way to making the return to the office happier all round.

4.  Set up some new rules

While Australia may have escaped the worst of the pandemic, we still need to be careful and it’s important that you follow any social distancing and other rules that apply. Beyond that, however, I think you should also bring in some new rules for how work needs to be done. For instance, one thing the pandemic reduced our tolerance for was pointless meetings. So why not set a rule that you should try to formulate an action point without a meeting based on a phone call or quick chat?

5. Make it fun

Let people remember what’s great about working from an office by having a social function (within the rules, of course). Even informal drinks can make a real difference to people’s moods.

6. Give it time

While some people will be happy to return to the office, others may take some time to adjust. So, be prepared to wait out a few months until things really click into gear again.

Want more?

If you’d like help devising a plan to get your employees back to your office, get in touch.

say hi to our author

Merilyn founded Catalina Consultants in 2012 on the belief that all organisations, regardless of size, should have access to top quality bespoke HR services. She enjoys working closely with her clients and believes that the best results are built on relationships of rapport, trust and authenticity. Growing up, Merilyn had her sight set on stardom and dreamed of becoming an actor. She also sang and played the piano, but ended up studying accounting and HR. Whilst she hasn’t won her Grammy just yet, she still loves a good karaoke night. Merilyn loves to travel with her family, with South Africa being one of her most memorable destinations.

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