As more companies are in the process of planning to return to the office, the debate around different work models is louder than it’s ever been. Many workers report being reluctant to return to the in-person work model and some even view it as a deal-breaker. According to NPR News, the planning of returning to the office has created increasing tension between employers and employees.
For many businesses, it is a new challenge they are facing in the post-COVID era. Employers need to approach this carefully with exhaustive consideration and make informed decisions to better retain talent.
Why Are Companies Returning to Office?
A little more than 2 years ago, an unprecedented pandemic dramatically changed the landscape of the workspace. With half of the world population in some form of lockdown, working remotely was the best and only option for many workers. 2 years later, people and organizations have adapted well to this "new normal" and many don't want to go back to where it was before COVID.
According to Forbes, remote workers report to be more efficient and work one hour longer every day than other workers on average. Working from home often allows for higher flexibility and cost savings over the commute and social aspects of work, often highly valued by workers who have family responsibilities.
However, efficiency doesn't directly translate to raw productivity. From the same report, it is indicated that hybrid workers appear to be the most productive. Even more than that, the high efficiency of work-from-home workers is reported to be a result of longer working hours, by transferring the social and personal time spent in the office to actual working hours. With fully working from home, employees are facing a higher possibility of loneliness, poor work-life balance, mental health issues and burn-out, which can lead to poor performance and turnover.
How to Approach the Return to Office Plan
Returning to the workplace seems to be an inevitable consideration for both employers and employees post-pandemic. Although each work model affects efficiency and output differently for different companies, industries, workforces, and geographies, there are some widely applicable principles that employers should consider to better plan and attract employees to return to the workplace.
Know What Works Best for Your Business
There's no simple answer to which way your business should be heading forward - fully remote or fully in-office or hybrid? Every option has its pros and cons and will affect your company differently based on the following:
● Company size: How many employees do you have? Will the cost of leasing or purchasing workspace counteract the value of having people back under the same roof? Including the time, labor, and resources it takes, what is the full cost of planning and executing the return of employees?
● Work duty nature: Is it the type of work that can be conducted effectively without the necessity of a physical office and face-to-face communication?
● Industry: What is the trend for your broader industry? If most companies in your industry are adapting a fully remote work model, going in an opposite direction can have real-world repercussions on attracting and retaining talent, who perceive to have more appealing options.
It is a crucial step for companies to complete the work model transition. The decision needs to be made upon a comprehensive analysis of your company’s specific situation, which can be difficult for some companies that lack resources. If your company is having difficulty managing talent retention during this transition, then maybe it’s time to outsource an HR Consulting firm for professional guidance.
Returning to Office: Attract People Back
Whether it's a fully in-office or hybrid model, employers need to build a positive and healthy work environment - a place where employees want to return. As numerous studies have proven, businesses with low turnover tend to be more profitable. In other words, it’s in your company's best interest to have happy employees who would rather stay at their current roles instead of seeking other opportunities. Here is a list of items for employers to check:
● Open and honest discussion. Employers should offer a listening ear when discussing returning to the office with employees and pay close attention to their concerns, holdbacks, and barriers, and try to provide genuine understanding, solutions and accommodations.
● Clear and consistent communication. Employers need to convey the same message when communicating to their employees about the returning plan and adhere to their principles and policies.
● Flexibility is the key. One of the greatest things about working from home is the flexibility it holds. Companies that are in an industry or business model that allows for flexibility - such as a hybrid model - should strongly consider offering it. They may find employees who are more inclined to return to the office.
● Improve company benefits. Employers need to invest more in providing support to employees who are dealing with mental health issues and encourage a healthy work style to prevent burnout. It would be helpful to evaluate and update the benefit plan and provide simple perks to improve employees’ mental health well-being.
● Be cautious about mandates. Many organizations are offering remote or hybrid work options as a strategy to retain talent. If your circumstances allow, not forcing employees to return to the office is a strategy that can lower risk of turnover. If your organization or industry does require that employees be in a workplace, a strategic plan communicated early and effectively is key to reducing turnover risk.
Boundaries and Precautions
There are still clear boundaries that need to be set aside from providing support and accommodation. Studies also show that efficiency drops when employees can work with too much autonomy. Employers have the right and responsibility to set up clear boundaries while providing support. To prevent putting your organization at risk of high turnover of top contributors by bringing employees back to the office full-time, consider the following:
● Time Tracking. Time-tracking software monitors how much time your employees are working every day, which can in turn, help employers learn more about how hours are actually spent in a workday, and how those hours are affected by different work models.
● Safety. A safe work environment is at the top of employees' concerns when considering coming into the office. Employers need to have a sustainable policy that ensures vaccination and precautions against COVID.
● Costs. Office space, work desks, and other supplies are required for an in-person setting. For some companies, these costs can make a significant difference. In some cases, a hybrid model allows companies to reduce the cost burden of supplies and office space.
● Legal Challenges. Since the start of the pandemic, there have been more than 4,200 employment-related lawsuits due to COVID-19, with the most common being related to employment termination or employee discrimination. Employers should always consult legal advice before making any decisions regarding the post-COVID work model.
Returning to the office is a key decision point affecting both employers and employees. With the variation among different industries, companies, and job functions, it is hard to come up with a one-fits-all solution. Companies must equip themselves with the most up-to-date information to make the right decision. Good news is you don’t have to do it on your own. You can always consult an HR Consulting Company for professional guidance with less hassle and greater efficiency.