October 11, 2022

Encouraging a return to the office – carrot or stick?

Posted in Employment, Employment

As discussed in the part one of this week's series on hybrid working, many employers are facing difficulties associated with hybrid working, including monitoring employee performance, maintaining a workplace culture and development for junior members of staff.  But should employers force staff to return to the workplace?

In short, we do not encourage this approach – particularly if employers are concerned with staff retention.  Workers are accustomed to the flexibility of hybrid working – if their employer won’t offer it, there will be one that will.  Given we made it through a pandemic working from home, it is difficult to argue that it does not work.  Unless their role requires a physical presence in the office, workers will expect to be able to continue working from home at least part-time. Ultimately employees are looking for trust, autonomy and the freedom of choice.

At the moment, we are experiencing the war on talent and the great resignation – that I call the “Covexodus” – where people have had the time to reconsider their careers, maybe get a slightly different work/life balance, and developed new patterns and habits; so when employers then insist that staff break these new habits and come back to the office, Covexodus happens”

Dr Nicola Millard, Principal Innovation Partner, BT, Changing Dimensions Report (RWK Goodman)

Hybrid working, with all the flexibility it allows, is a great motivator for staff and we think that is the main reason employers are open to the concept. Therefore rather than force the issue, we suggest that employers look at ways to encourage staff to return to the office.

Encouraging workplace attendance

To encourage staff to return to the office, employers need to be clear about what the objective is in doing so. The office is a space for collaboration, communication and community and this is what employers should be looking to foster. There is no point in going to an office which is empty – the purpose of returning to the office is to interact with colleagues.  If those in your team are all doing different days, it’s understandable that people think, what’s the point?

If I’m going into the office, I want to know that my colleagues are there too because I can do my work just as effectively at home, but I can’t as effectively interact with colleagues at home. One-off chats, whether at “water coolers” or anywhere else, simply don’t happen as effectively on Teams. Crucially, what is lost working at home, is spontaneity which can only properly be achieved person to person. Spontaneity sparks discussion, interaction, exchange of innovative ideas and thoughts.  If office attendance is to achieve its objective, employers need to coordinate attendance so that people get a real benefit from being collectively in one place again.

On a more superficial level, offering workplace incentives is also an effective way to encourage staff back into the office.  Such incentives could take the form of:

  • free lunches or breakfasts
  • regular office social events
  • coffee/lunch vouchers
  • monthly treat trolleys

Ultimately, the key is showing staff that the office is a positive place to be.

Tune in for tomorrow’s bite-sized piece where we examine the intergenerational differences in approach to hybrid working.

Our Changing Dimensions report:

A study into the changing dimensions of people management and what this means for the modern workforce:

View here