By Eve Vlemincx.
In the ever-evolving landscape of 21st-century work, the question of bringing employees back to the office is a prominent concern for organizations worldwide.
Traditionally, employers have resorted to methods like mandatory in-person work, incentives, and policy adjustments to encourage their staff's physical return.
However, what if the most effective approach is a profound comprehension of the obstacles they face, coupled with a deliberate effort to create a workspace that employees genuinely desire to return to?
Understanding the barriers
Before making any decisions about how to facilitate the return of employees to the office, it is imperative to grasp the barriers preventing their return. Several factors contribute to employees' hesitancy, including:
Commuting: The daily commute can be time-consuming and stressful, rendering remote work an attractive alternative. Work-Life balance: Remote work has offered employees more flexibility, allowing them to achieve a better work-life balance. Returning to the office full-time could disrupt this equilibrium.
Productivity: Some employees have discovered that they can maintain or even increase their productivity while working from home. The prospect of returning to the office and potentially sacrificing these gains is unappealing.
Lack of meaningful interaction: The quality of interactions and work experiences in the office has sometimes been subpar, leading employees to question the value of commuting.
One should also ponder why, if employees can achieve the same results at home, should they be compelled to work at the office? Is the motivation behind bringing people back to the office task-related, or is it driven by a need for control? If it's more about motivation and engagement, the answer often lies in the organization's culture, and that cannot be solely attributed to the physical workspace.
Creating adequate solutions
Once we've identified these barriers, the next step is to formulate suitable solutions to address them. It is essential to be flexible and adaptable in finding solutions tailored to the needs of both the employees and the organization:
Hybrid work models: Offering hybrid work arrangements where employees can choose when to work from the office and when to work remotely is an excellent starting point and the most obvious one. However this only scratches at the surface.
Office redesign: It is crucial to reconsider office spaces to make them more attractive and functional. The physical office should evolve into a hub for collaboration, innovation, and creativity rather than just a place for routine tasks.
Foster meaningful social interactions: Cultivate an environment in which employees genuinely look forward to coming to the office, connecting with colleagues, and building meaningful relationships. Are we intentional enough about building a healthy organizational culture?
Flexibility: Allow employees to select tasks they can perform at home and those that require their presence in the office. By drawing this distinction, employees can allocate their time effectively and align tasks with the advantages of each setting.
Building a Healthy Culture
The best tool to make people return to the office is culture. It’s an often underestimated and overlooked factor in the return-to-office equation. Anything less than a healthy organizational culture is draining and contributes to people refraining from returning to the office. A healthy work culture is paramount for well-being, job satisfaction, and overall productivity. Research underscores that many employees avoid the office due to an unhealthy or unappealing work culture. Building a healthy culture requires intention and effort.
Bringing people back to the office is not simply a matter of obligation or incentives; it is about understanding the existing barriers and addressing them with thoughtful and flexible solutions. By creating a workplace that is intentional about building a healthy culture and distinguishes tasks suited for in-person collaboration, organizations can foster a sense that will genuinely entice employees to return willingly.
A healthy work culture, built with intention, is the cornerstone of a successful transition back to the office.
About the Author Eve Vlemincx is a strategic advisor with expertise in a wide array of areas including legal digital transformation, innovation and leadership. She serves as an advisory council member for Harvard Business Review and is a Course Facilitator at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Eve is highly sought after as a keynote speaker and guest lecturer in various professional settings. Notably, she has been honored as a five-time recipient of the Stanford GSB LEAD Award.
Operating at the dynamic intersection of legal and business, Eve holds certifications from esteemed institutions such as Oxford, Harvard, Kellogg and Stanford Graduate School of Business. Additionally, she brings substantial experience as a seasoned lawyer specializing in corporate law and restructurings.
Eve's guiding philosophy is centered on working smarter, not harder, as she helps individuals and organizations navigate the complexities of today's rapidly evolving landscape.