When deciding how to incentivise your team back into the office, or creating a strategy for the return to the office, the first thing to ask yourself is: Why do you want to get people back into the office? And how will you incentivise this to your employees
Because a blanket return to the office with no significant reasons or incentives why, is likely to have people looking for a new job. A post-Covid study from Owl Labs found that more than half of workers surveyed would quit if forced to return to the office.
Meanwhile, a more recent study from Microsoft found that 73% of employees say that they would need a better reason than “company expectations”, to want to go back into the office.
Which reinforces our point: Forcing people back to the office may end up driving them away completely. So how can you get your team back into the office willingly?
First is understanding and communicating the benefits for your employees, of working from the office.
The Benefits of Working in the Office
Employees overwhelmingly want remote work opportunities. But is it actually what’s best for people? Evidence suggests otherwise.
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance has been a prevalent problem for remote workers. Because it’s easier to stay that extra hour late, when you’re already at home and don’t have a commute to factor in. In fact, remote workers on average worked an extra full hour a day, when compared to in-office or even hybrid counterparts.
Meanwhile, research from Robert Half over in the US, found that 68% of workers who transitioned to remote work said that they occasionally worked on the weekend. And while this research was focused on a time when workers were transitioning and being thrust into remote work, this highlighted another problem remote workers faced: Overcompensating for not being present in the office, by working longer hours.
Having a commute and separation of the office and home reduces flexibility, but provides employees with an easier way to disconnect from their work.
Training and Development Opportunities
One of the big reasons for in-office work is for training and development. In-office workers have greater access to training, spend more time on professional development and gain further career development opportunities.
Research from WFH Research and Stanford University found that employees who came into the office spent:
- 34% more time receiving mentorship by their manager.
- 33% more time in formal training.
- And had 10% more professional development than their working from home counterparts.
Showing a clear advantage for in-office employees for progression opportunity within the business and professional and career development. Which is especially essential for those early career employees, who are looking for that mentoring from more seasoned employees.
No Replacement For Face-to-Face
While 1-2-1’s and meetings can be replicated by video calling, it seems there’s no real replacement for in-person meetings. Research from the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology indicated that face-to-face meetings can be up to 34 times more successful than emails.
And a study from Indeed found that 45% of people miss in-person meetings with colleagues. Because while Zoom and Teams are great tools for collaborating, they can’t quite replace physically being in the same room as your colleagues. Nuances like body language and tone of voice are lost, and meetings are naturally slower as discussions become slower.
Mental Health and Well-being
One of the drawbacks seen from the shift to remote work was seen as a surprise to many: a negative impact on mental health and well-being.
Many thought that having the freedom to work from home in a more flexible environment suited to everyone’s individual way of working would improve mental health. But various studies have shown this to not be so simple. The same study from Indeed found that 73% of people interviewed missed socialising with colleagues in person.
Meanwhile a study from Entrepreneur found that 72% of workers experience some amount of loneliness every month, and a staggering 94% of leaders reported that their teams were lonelier due to remote working.
Having your employees back in the office even in a hybrid manner can help those of your team who are struggling with the distance caused by a shift to remote working.
How to Get Your Team Back Into the Office
Well now we’ve got the facts about how the team can benefit from the office, how do we communicate these to a potentially reluctant workforce?
Make it About the People, Not the Office
As we’ve stated, loneliness is a common problem that remote workers face, with 72% of workers experiencing loneliness every month. So when addressing the return to the office, your focus should be on the people, not on the office.
You should use the return to the office as an opportunity for collaboration and social interaction. We’re hearing of more and more businesses having beer taps or bars in their office. Which sounds like a bit of a joke, but it is symbolic of something a little more important. Creating a social atmosphere that makes an office more than just a place to work.
Create New Rituals and Opportunities to Develop Culture
For a lot of businesses, part of the push to return to the office is due to maintaining company culture. And if you want to create a company culture that your employees enjoy, then you may want to create reasons for them to want to be in the office.
These can be as simple as taking the teams out for drinks after work on a Friday, running competitions for teams in the office, or even having company holiday incentives for those who are in the office.
And many of our clients offer free breakfast or lunches for people in the office. And while not something that’s going to completely change lives, having a social lunch with friends and colleagues can be one of those small things that make people look forward to coming back into the office: and can help solve the loneliness of working from home.
Have Dedicated Training Days in the Office
The best thing you can do to incentivise having people return to the office, is giving them a reason. A reason they want and will enjoy. For example, having dedicated training and development days, is a strong reason for having the team all together in the office.
A Microsoft study found that 76% of employees say they’d stay at their company longer if they could benefit more from learning and development support. And with in-office workers receiving more formal training, learning and development and more mentorship, arranging in-office sessions for professional development is a great way to make coming into the office in an employee’s interest.
Offer Flexibility on Which Days the Teams Come in
One of the greatest perks of remote working is flexibility. But in-office working isn’t the opposite of flexibility. If you have multiple teams working on multiple projects, you may not need, or even want, every team in your office on the same day.
So working with employees to help let them decide what days they need to come into the office will help foster collaboration, and give your employees agency in the return to the office. The same study from Microsoft found that 74% of employees would go to the office more frequently if they knew their “work friends” were there. Similarly, 73% of employees would go to the office more frequently if they knew their team members would be there.
Make the Office More Accessible
People have become used to the convenience and flexibility of working from home. So if you’re going to incentivise a return to the office, you might want to make it as easy as possible. Some examples like:
- SAP’s office in Feltham has introduced electric charging spots, to make the office easier to access for employees with electric vehicles.
- Travelcards, Season Tickets, Car Allowances: Offering support when it comes to travel can alleviate one of your employees’ big reasons for working from home, the amount of money they save.
- Bike to Work schemes are nothing new, but are a great way to financially support people returning to the office.
Help Support Your Teams Work-life Balance
On average, remote workers spend more time than their hybrid or in-office working counterparts. So creating incentives or guidance around working-hours when in the office. These can be as simple as early finishes on Friday’s, or team lunches during the week. These can be a great way of having the team actually looking forward to coming into the office.
Some companies even have early finishes just for those in the office: Using commute times to compensate for this earlier finish.
Forcing people back into the office will never end well. At best, it will create a grudging return and resentment. At worst, your highly skilled employees will be the ones jumping ship to employers who will offer remote work.
But understanding the benefits for your employees of being in the office, communicating these benefits and creating incentives built around these, will help you bring back a team that looks forward to going into the office.