With more than 18 months of home working under our belts, many employees are hoping to continue remotely in the future. And many businesses have permanently embraced remote work, with one survey reporting that 83% of employers say it has been successful for their companies.
However, not all businesses want their staff to continue working remotely full time and some are preparing for a return to the office in some form or another. Hybrid working – where employees will split their time between home and the office – will be the way forward for many.
Whether employers want to attract people back to the office part time or full time, there are several factors to bear in mind. Not only is it essential to balance the needs of employees with those of the company, it is important to understand why people are reluctant to return.
“One of the greatest challenges for companies during the pandemic was keeping the corporate culture and cohesion around the message. In ‘normal’ times, people see each other, discuss the projects they are working on and get a sense of the direction of the company, every day,” says recruitment expert Daniel Wood, co-founder of Momentum Property.
“During the pandemic, many employees have worked at home and maybe only spoken to co-workers or managers sporadically, in some cases not even once per week. Getting employees back into the office will allow them to reconnect with their colleagues and the mission.”
So what can employers do to encourage people to return to the workplace – while keeping people happy and healthy?
Encourage a sense of community
Remote working comes with many benefits, from saving time and money on commuting to a better work-life balance. However, many people have reported feeling lonely when working from home. Almost half (46%) of UK workers experienced loneliness during lockdown, according to research by Totaljobs, with women and young people particularly affected.
“Having people come back to work and meeting their co-workers is an important step to helping people feel more included,” says Wood.
“The difficulty is that the length of the pandemic has created new habits, new morning routines, and they need to be changed back. Easing people back into the office is probably the best way to go. Have an ‘opening the office’ team building day.”
To encourage people to return, make sure socialising is a key aspect of their work lives. “People who might not have spoken to each other for a long time need a chance to reconnect,” says Woods. “After that you can start with certain days or times when everyone is in the office.”
Make sure employees feel safe
Safety is essential to ensure people are comfortable returning, but it doesn’t just mean having Covid-19 measures in place to protect vulnerable workers. People need to feel physically, mentally and financially safe in the workplace, which requires employers to be empathetic.
It is important to remember that people’s circumstances may have changed as a result of the pandemic, which may make a return to the office more difficult. In addition to the safety measures companies need to take, employees need to feel that they won’t face consequences for expressing their needs or feeling reluctant to return.
For employees to feel happy about heading back to the office, they have to know what to expect. Therefore it’s key for employers to communicate any changes and expectations before people return. An open, supportive environment will allow staff to speak up if they have any concerns or worries, which will help to build a trusting, healthier environment.
Perhaps most importantly, though, employers need to respect people’s desire to work from home. If employees can do their work remotely – and have done so successfully during the pandemic – it may be better to agree on a hybrid working schedule instead of forcing people into the office full time.
“An important note is that many companies did see an increase in productivity during the pandemic as people felt they could be more efficient at home, so having people return to the office shouldn't be an end unto itself,” says Wood. “It is possible to balance working from home with connecting in the office.”