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Never before have our day to day working lives been upturned. While the word ‘unprecedented’ has been overused in recent years – that is an understatement!

The great return to office following the pandemic has divided workers and their organisations. Now more than ever, some employees are demanding flexibility and autonomy over their working schedule and its location. But on the other hand, organisations have been left craving the in-person presence that used to drive culture, team cohesion, and productivity.  A hybrid approach to today’s modern work has become a natural compromise. People splitting their workdays between remote and in-office has pretty much become the new norm and is designed to give people and companies the best of both worlds.

So, what does return to office really look like?

Returning to the office obviously isn’t the same for all businesses and workers alike.

For many industries, returning to the office five days a week is essential, especially for companies operating within healthcare, manufacturing, or education.

Other sectors have seen a slower return to their old ways. In the USA 16% of organisations work a ‘remote-first’ model, navigating a hybrid work style and requesting a 1-2 days per week attendance in the workplace.

The benefits and challenges of returning to the office

Of course, the obvious reality is that no one method is void of contention and while the old ways of 5 days a week in the office are long gone, pro’s and con’s to both methods invariably follow.

On the plus side, businesses have the opportunity to drive employee engagement through flexibility, with employees potentially valuing being back at the office.

Key elements to consider on an effective return to office policy:

  • A better work-life balance
    The key benefit of returning to the office which isn’t always that apparent, is that it helps people achieve a better work-life balance by physically separating working life and personal life apart.
  • Recognition
    It may seem obvious (and even a little unfair!) but, 95% of leaders admit that they recognise employee contributions more than those who work from home. This statistic includes employees who come in frequently to the office
  • Collaboration and cohesion
    We think everyone will agree that they miss their favourite office buddy! Hugely beneficial for collaboration, sharing the workspace with colleagues is viewed as essential for developing team camaraderie, work relationships, and a sense of community. Also collaboration also helps to drive business output and unlocks potential for growth and innovation.
  • Productivity and company culture
    Put simply there is no replacement for face-to-face interaction (despite technological advances!). The reality is that when a team get together, they can brainstorm, ask questions on the fly, and collaborate in more organic ways. This in turn drives people to be more productive when they’re onsite and reignites a culture and ethos for the business.
  • The challenge of commuting
    It is estimated that remote workers have saved 60 million hours by cutting out their commute to and from work.
    Sadly commuting is an element of the return to office that is unavoidable. More so today over 50% of employees now consider long commutes as a deal breaker when returning to the office. Effective offices are responding to lessen the barrier to return with initiatives such as;
  • Arrival and departure flexible timing – missing that rush hour is a huge bonus!
  • Offering renumeration for the added cost of returning to the office – this is viewed as a new cost, even though we were all paying it pre-covid!
  • Business transportation – some businesses run shuttle buses to help those without cars get to work easier.
  • Regular employee surveys to gauge reaction and evolve the return to office policy.

The challenge of illnesses

While the world is past the peak of Covid-19, germs and illness will always remain a fact of life. Workers will naturally be exposed to illnesses from others. As we’ve been tucked away from others for so long, it can feel overwhelming to return to the office and away from the safety of home.

Again, forward thinking employers are thinking of ways to overcome this such as;

  • Investing in technology that helps support those who feel anxious such as visitor management systems, which ensure all visitors are vaccinated.
  • The implementation of health verification tools gives employees the opportunity to verify their vaccination status, confirm a custom health check, and complete a touchless sign-in process.

Different return to office policies

There is simply no ‘one size fits all’ approach to the return to the office. An effective policy needs to ultimately work for the organisational goals.

Three possible flexible plans are;

  • An optional return to the office. A real all or nothing approach (but if it works then great!) This policy offers flexibility by giving people the choice to return to the office. It may include how often people go in, or for how long, and on what days.
  • A hybrid return to the office. (Potentially THE most popular policy). Hybrid work allows employees to return to the office for part of the week, giving them the flexibility to WFH while also having the benefits of having people back onsite together again.
  • Full-time return to the office. The least flexible in approach but sometimes the only option or most practical. Although this could include chosen days where it is mandatory that all staff are in on certain days if not all.

Patience and understanding is key in implementing change, even if this change seems absolutely normal.

To recap – these are the Easy Tiger tips for a successful return to office strategy

  1. Embrace technology to help
    With advancements in tech accelerating at such a pace, employees demand a slick and efficient workspace.
    Consider employing tech that can automate tedious tasks, manage workflows, and connect systems and software to create a seamless workplace experience.
  1. A thoughtful approach
    Fact. Employees who don’t feel valued or recognized are five times more likely to work elsewhere than those who do. It always pays to think about your employees when implementing any change at work–especially a return to office change.
    Understand concerns, consider surveys to drive engagement.
  1. Design your office with intent
    With people spending so much time in their own environments, perhaps the office needs to be welcoming, friendly, warm and appealing. Consider elements such as break out areas, couches, TVs and nice areas to drive cohesion.
  1. Take some time to fully implement
    Jumping straight into a strict requirement, will risk losing some talent. Not everyone likes change or embraces it quickly. A phased implementation could work to allay concerns and resistance.
  1. Flexibility is the way!
    Flexible working is a style that undoubtably became the norm during the pandemic, and it’s here to stay for most. While its not mandatory for a business to offer any such perks, potential (and existing!) employees may look elsewhere if these aren’t part of their package.

Whatever your industry, the pandemic has changed the face of the working world and the workforce has new expectations that the workplace needs to adapt to or face a complicated path to success and growth. Listening to your staff has always been important but now, more than ever perhaps..

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