Do You Really Need Employees to Return to the Office?

Would it benefit your company to make employees return to work? Do employees want to return to the office? Learn more about what to consider.

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Do You Really Need Employees To Return to the Office?

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies to enable remote work for employees, it transformed what workers want from a work environment. The January 2022 “Future Forum Pulse” study of 10,737 knowledge workers found:

  • Executives who work remotely are more than twice as likely as employees to want to return to the office full time.
  • More than 3/4 (78%) of employees want flexibility for where they work.
  • 95% of employees want flexibility for when they work.

If you’re a business owner, you may be struggling with what the best decision for your workforce is. As you consider whether to bring employees back to work, think about the following to guide your decision.

Do employees want to return to the office?

Worker stances on returning to the office will vary widely. Opinions depend on factors like role or title, the type of work someone does, an employee’s preferred work style, and even age.

For example, a June 2020 study of more than 5,000 adults revealed something that surprised many: Out of all generations, the digital natives of Generation Z had the most trouble adapting to working from home. Findings included:

  • 13.33% of Gen Z reported, “I do not enjoy working from home.”
  • 19.17% of Gen Z reported, “I’m struggling with my productivity at home.”

These percentages were higher among Gen Zers than any other generation. It may reflect that Gen Zers want to grow their business network and build social connections. Work-from-home setups upended those opportunities.

Employees who rely on brainstorming and meetings with others may also welcome the chance to work in the office, at least part of the time. An August 2021 survey reported by The New York Times found:

  • 45% of workers want to be in the office full time
  • 31% of workers want to be remote full time
  • 24% of workers want a hybrid work arrangement

Forcing employees to come back to full-time office work could hurt your retention. An April 2021 study by McKinsey found that roughly 30% of people say they’re likely to switch jobs if their employer requires them to work on site full time.

The bottom line is that the answer to whether your employees want to return to the office will depend on your employees. Your workforce, business model, and work styles will vary. National or global surveys may represent larger populations. To understand what your employees want, you need to survey them.

What’s your biggest 2022 HR challenge that you’d like to resolve

Answer to see the results

Why should we return to the office?

A survey of your employees may reveal the majority want to be in your office full time, or they might prefer a hybrid or fully remote option. In addition to considering employee feedback, the following are some reasons why you might want to bring employees back into the office.

Productivity

Has your workforce productivity decreased since you went remote? See if you can pinpoint the reasons why. In some cases, it may be due to strains caused by the pandemic or other life events. In others, distractions from a work-from-home arrangement may be the culprit. Look at business data to see how you’ve fared.

One May 2020 survey found 41% of employees found they were more productive working remotely compared to in an office. Crunch the numbers to see where you stand.

41% of employees found they were more productive working remotely compared to in an office. Crunch the numbers to see where you stand.

Employee sentiment

How has working from home impacted your work culture? Do employees seem happier? Is teamwork suffering?

Talk with your managers about what they’ve observed with their teams. Ask about:

  • Communication
  • Attitude
  • Initiative and drive
  • Collaboration
  • Innovation

If any of the above factors are suffering, you may be able to improve them by at least offering hybrid work options or by requiring in-person meetings. You can use face-to-face gatherings to provide employee recognition, brainstorm, and do team-building exercises to help your employees feel connected.

If you decide to stay fully remote, remember to cultivate an employee culture virtually. You can use strategies like virtual team social gatherings, an employee non-work communication board, or virtual award ceremonies.

Work quality

Survey employees about how they’ve viewed the quality of their remote work and how being in the office might improve it.

Some types of work rely more on the technology you have in the office or on face time with clients or communicating in person. While you can more easily measure productivity, it’s also important to look at how work quality has fared in a remote environment. Consider whether you can produce better work by having workers in the office, at least some of the time. Consider:

  • Do your clients prefer to meet you in person, on site?
  • Is it too expensive to provide workers with the technology, information security, and other tools they need to work effectively at home?
  • Does your office space facilitate innovation? For example, do you have brainstorming rooms or a kitchen area where employees frequently share ideas and build relationships?

These in-office features may make a big difference for your business. Again, survey employees about how they’ve viewed the quality of their remote work and how being in the office might improve it. The difference might be negligible, but these factors are important to consider.

How to return to work effectively

When you decide a return to the office makes sense for your business, keep in mind that many employees will want a hybrid option. You might start an office return slowly or give employees some choice in their office hours.

As employees return, make them feel welcome with clean, organized, and safe workspaces. Give them opportunities to reconnect socially and contribute to their teams.

Measure your return to office efforts so you can track data on how successful working on site is. Continually survey employees, so they feel like they’re a part of the process and invested in the outcome.

Help your employees feel comfortable by implementing safety measures and offering items like hand sanitizer and face masks. Encourage your workers to communicate with their managers about how they’re feeling. It’s better to retain your talent than lose it due to inflexible work policies.

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