- June 5, 2023
- Posted by: Hannah Ingram
- Categories: Employee Engagement, Organisational Culture, Pay, Reward & Benefits
Why are employers moving people back to the office?
Employers are keen to build strong bonds within their teams.
It’s often harder to work closely on projects in a hybrid environment, learn from each other or generate ideas.
As a result of this, and several other factors, a growing number of employers are asking employees to come into the office more or removing remote working altogether.
This is causing a stir and, in some cases, upset for employees, some of whom are voting with their feet. So, what do you need to consider if you’re looking to introduce more in-person days?
Is it worth the downsides to introducing this change?
Let’s explore the trends, pros and cons together and then we’ll share what you need to take into account.
We’re a people consultancy and every organisation is different. If you need support feel free to give us a call.
What are the trends?
72% of companies surveyed in a global report had implemented a return to the office showing that this is certainly a trending theme, however 42% found employee attrition was higher than they anticipated.
A LinkedIn poll by one of our team found that 61% of LinkedIn respondents were being asked to come into the office more than before.
However 81% of employees surveyed say that remote work has improved their mental health. There’s a clear mismatch between what many employees are looking to introduce in terms of a return to the office and what many employers still want.
So how do you weigh up what’s right for your organisation?
What are the benefits of working in the office more?
If there weren’t perks to having your team in the office, or at least that perception, then organisations wouldn’t be doing it.
The benefits span from leaders to graduates, employers to employees, let’s dive into them.
Reasons to move back to the office
Collaboration – When your team spend more time together in-person then it’s easier to have powerful conversations. Working together isn’t stilted by technology and it’s much more spontaneous.
This is great for idea generation and it’s far easier to focus without being tempted to work on other screens. Not to mention distractions like pets or post arriving.
In other words, if innovation culture is important to you, then working in-person has its benefits.
Building relationships – It’s easier to build trust and loyalty in-person. When virtual meetings are held this usually has an agenda which provides less opportunity for natural conversations to progress.
Career growth – “Being in the office provides you with an opportunity to build your social capital, but also to be on the radar screen of and in recent memory of leaders who may be thinking about expanding their team or promoting key talent,” says Tracy Brower in Forbes.
72% of office workers said that face-to-face development opportunities would encourage them to return to the office more.
More on this in our newcomer’s section, but essentially, it’s easier to build relationships with leaders, expand your influence in the company and progress individually within the organisation.
Other reasons to work more in the office
Sales teams – Departments such as sales can gain a lot from working with each other in-person. This encourages a collaborative environment and the positive energy from working together creates a contagious cycle which can energise the workforce and increase the collective performance of your team. It may also help staff who work in lone wolf roles from payroll to HR.
Improved mental health – Working from home can cause you to feel isolated and it’s easy to forget to take regular breaks. Being around others can really help with this.
23% of people polled in a study of 3,000 people struggled with loneliness working from home.
Mentorship and Support – Whether it’s wellbeing or performance it’s often easier to be a mentor face-to-face. It’s easier to spot when employees are having a hard time and offer encouragement.
Office Space ROI – As an employer it’s deeply frustrating to spend a fortune on office space that isn’t being used, especially when you’re tied into lengthy contracts.
A Better Working Environment – It’s easier to provide colleagues with a great working environment in the office. For example, providing consistent heating and air con. It’s also easier to provide perks such as beverages, treats and other free initiatives when this happens in one location.
A Clear Routine – Going to the office gives employers a routine and a clearer split between their work and home lives; they may be less tempted to work unhealthy hours, which in turn lowers their chance of experiencing burnout.
A better company culture – When an organisation works hard on a great company culture then getting together to experience it can be very empowering for the whole team, and it means you can achieve great things together. This isn’t likely to happen overnight however as people adjust.
Presenteeism – One of the current issues with a hybrid working set up is that people who are working remotely more often may be passed up for promotion. Certain demographics will suffer as they are more likely to opt to work from home, this gives an advantage to those who can come in more.
Teams that eat together “succeed together” – Eating together builds relationships, increases employee engagement and can even influence team performance. It creates a strong culture of belonging and also reinforces healthier behaviours such as taking lunch breaks away from desks which in turn can reduce burnout.
Back to the office considerations – What can go wrong?
You need to consider the consequences of a back to the office move, particularly in terms of team moral and employee turnover. Are the benefits of coming back into the workplace worth the pay off? And will this change create a better company culture or lead to a demotivated, resentful team.
Here are some of the things you need plan for if you’re moving your people back to the office and consider whether the risks are worth it.
Higher employee turnover – There is a risk that your staff will leave if they value working from home on a frequent basis. There are still many employers who offer hybrid or remote options, these will now appear more attractive than your new working conditions.
What’s more, by making office working an obligation you’ll have less occasions when staff are coming in out of choice which may lower their satisfaction at work.
One study found that one third of workers would quit if told to return to the office full-time.
Uncompetitive with hiring – In recent years and with Gen Z entering the workforce employees have more power during the hiring process. You may not be able to hire the best talent either when they won’t settle for an office environment or because you’re now more limited by location.
29% of businesses are struggling to recruit currently, and skills shortages are prevalent in many sectors, so you need to consider if the job titles you are hiring for are likely to favour remote work. Consider whether this will negatively effect your ability to grow as a company at the speed you’d like.
Some larger companies are getting around this by offering relocation benefits but this isn’t an option for many SMEs.
Decreased motivation – Let us set the scene, if your team have 2 screens in the office and one day you permanently remove every second screen, they’ll feel they’ve lost something.
If they see the move back to the office as something that only benefits you as the employer, then they will start to feel demotivated. They’ll start to feel that the company doesn’t have their best interests at heart and may even experience higher stress levels. Consider how you’ll ‘sell’ this move to your team as a positive.
A mutual lack of trust – When employers ask their employees to be in the office more it can make employees feel they aren’t being trusted. This doesn’t make them feel good. In turn employees will questions how much more leaders will ‘take away’ from them in the near future.
They’ll also question why, after 3 years, they can’t be trusted to work productively whilst working from home. Having a mandatory number of days in the office can help to level the playing field.
Reduced productivity in some employees – Some employees work more productively at home especially if they have a job that requires high concentration or if they are easily distracted by noise around them. Equally some neurodivergent employees may struggle with the social elements of going back to the office.
In one survey 55% of people felt they could concentrate better at home particularly in sectors such as legal. However those in education and engineering could concentrate more in ‘at work’ than at home.
The cost of living – The average cost of commuting can run into the hundreds of pounds for petrol or commitment to long term rail cards that can run into the thousands, not to mention other costs such as parking charges and lunches. With people already moving jobs to get more pay to cushion the cost of living, can you afford to give them an effective pay cut through forced commuting?
The effect of AI – As AI evolves in the workplace some are saying that face-to-face interaction will become more desirable as people differentiate themselves from robots.
Communicating a transition back to the office
The debate around office vs working from home rages on and it’s impossible to get it right for everyone.
What is clear is internal communication for the change is everything.
Whatever your reasoning, if you’re moving back to the office, it’s paramount you communicate this effectively, with clear HR policies in place too. You don’t want your employees to be blindsided. They may need time to put things in place for school runs and commutes.
What’s more you need to sell the ‘what’s in it for them’ element. If the motives are purely commercial, then employees are likely to become despondent.
Are you offering anything in return for example more flexibility on hours or an office perk such as treats? They may grieve for the working set up they had before.
HR Policy considerations for back to the office moves
Fairness, diversity, and inclusion
Bear in mind that many of your staff have based their lives around a hybrid or remote set up for the past 3 years and any change to that will send shockwaves, with knock-on effects for school runs and their work-life balance. If they have an hour commute just one more time a week that’s an extra 2 hours a day they lose, unpaid.
There is also a commuting gap to consider, women are more likely to leave a job due to a longer commute or accept less pay elsewhere, due to childcare or other reasons.
Consider if you can continue to hire a diverse team if certain demographics are less likely to apply for office-based roles.
When new people join the business there are at least 3 reasons why you’d request more office time at the start:
People Management – If they are managing people directly you may feel that their direct reports need a good amount of in-person support during the week.
Interns and graduates – If people are new to the working world, you may feel they get more support from being in the office which will help them with their future careers.
Development – Some employers are asking newcomers to come into the office so they can be immersed in the knowledge that comes from being inside the business.
Barriers to getting to the office
Do you have the right HR policies in place for when your team can’t easily get to the office on mandated days?
For example, if there are strikes, traffic obstacles or extreme weather conditions? You need to consider their safety and ensure they have a clear rule book to help them on these days.
What’s more what happens when employees are ill? People are less tolerant of coughs and colds since the pandemic and more people in the office means more germs spread and more days off work disrupting projects especially around periods like Christmas.
Alarmingly in one study 38% of people would come in to work just to prove to their colleagues they were ill! This just goes to prove that some companies need to build stronger trust amongst their team.
“Can I refuse to go back to the office?”
It is possible that some of your team may fight the return to work, either by not turning up or by actively fighting the decision through a more formal route.
You need to have processes in place including potential disciplinary procedures for non-compliance, consideration of any H&S risks of returning to the office or ways in which asking certain members of your team to return to the office may put them at a distinct disadvantage.
Ensure you give reasonable notice to avoid further disagreements with your team or resulting in costly HR challenges.
There are some complex areas around this and you may wish to get extra support from a HR services provider.
HR Support from a People Consultancy
As a people consultancy that specialise in HR Support, Organisational Design (OD) and Organisational Development we hold unique expertise around hybrid working, changing workplace culture and team development.
If you’re exploring a back to the office move, or simply want to get more out of your hybrid set up then speak to us first to get a second pair of ears.
Last Updated on 5 months by Hannah Ingram