Return To Work
April 28th, 2021

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Without a differentiation factor — something of value employees can get from being in the office that they can't get working from home — there's not much incentive for anyone to return. 

What can your workplace experience offer that would justify trading in the ability to wear pajama pants while they make business calls and attend meetings?

If you want to inspire your workforce to return to the office after COVID-19, start by addressing employee concerns and follow that up with return initiatives that bring new ways of working to life.

Employee concerns about returning to the office

Returning to work requires a significant amount of commitment from your organization's leaders. There's the commitment to protecting your workforce, complying with regulations and health guidelines, keeping sensitive information secure, communicating honestly, and taking accountability.

For employees, coming back to the office can feel risky for a couple of reasons.

Fears of catching COVID-19

First, it's important to recognize many people remain concerned about the health and safety risks of catching the disease. For some, personal circumstances could prevent them from working in the office for the time being. That might mean they are in the high-risk category or that they live with someone who is at a higher risk of infection.

Start by asking yourself this question: How do you want employees to feel when they work from the office? Consider which employees are going to be using your space most often. What benefits would be most relevant for those team members and how can you offer a workplace experience that delivers those benefits?

You don't want to force anyone to return. Beyond the potential legal ramifications, it's also bad form in the midst of a global pandemic and massive health crisis. And if the legal and ethical concerns didn't convince you, there's also a chance that requiring people to come back when they don't feel safe could damage work performance.

Employees may experience was researchers call "threat rigidity response" — when people stop taking risks due to feelings of powerlessness in the face of risks in their environment. Considering the relationship between risk-taking and characteristics like creativity and innovation, that could be bad for the whole organization.

There's also another concern and this one has a longer-term impact, and that's the fear that by opting for in-office work now they'll be giving up the opportunity to work from home (whether part-time or full-time) later on down the line.

Fears of a remote working reversal

Why would employees want to give up the comfort of working remotely? Think through the amount of flexibility that employees have experienced while working from home.

Remote work makes it possible to balance professional priorities with personal ones. During the day, people can take a break from their computers to walk the dog, do the dishes, run to the grocery store, practice a new hobby, or spend time with loved ones. 

Some employees are hesitant that the return to the workplace after COVID-19 will undo the progress that has been made over the past year towards greater flexibility. Though many want to get back to the office, they don't want to see a complete reversal of the work-from-home trend.

You're not merely opening your office doors and going back to how things were pre-pandemic. You're revamping the office to address what's changed in the lives of your employees. You're not ushering them back to the old ways of working, but rather creating the right environment for people to come back to, combined with the workplace experience that makes returning worth their while.

Redefining workplace experience after COVID-19

Over the past 14 months, people have found ways to create a workplace experience from their own homes. Now that the world knows remote work can be successful, some don't see a need to go back to the standard workday. They just don't see the point of spending 9-5 hours in the office every day of the week, plus the amount of time it takes to commute there.

To map out your return effectively, you need to evaluate what's changed over the course of the pandemic.

How has remote work improved the employee experience? Has working from home impaired certain aspects of their experience? What technological advancements have been made?  In what ways has your company's digital transformation journey evolved during the past year?

Building flexibility into the workplace experience

Major companies around the world seem to agree with that sentiment. Rather than returning to "business as usual", they see the future of work as hybrid and dynamic. It's less important for leadership to dictate where employees work and more important to offer the options and resources that enable work to be done well.

Traditional flexible seating arrangements, such as the controversial hot-desking method, aren't necessarily the best fit for today's workforce. For starters, they weren't a very popular option with employees. Secondly, there are newer and more modern flexible seating strategies that work better.

Take office hoteling, for instance. With desk and office hoteling, employees can reserve their workspace in advance, much like they would book a flight or create a hotel reservation. It turns the complexity and confusion of sharing desks and simplifies it into a more familiar process.

Plus, they won't have to worry about showing up to the office just to find there aren't any good seats — or any seats — available. After all, if they are going to give up some of the perks of working remotely, they should at least be confident that there's a place that is actually worth the trade.

With enhanced support for people working remotely, from the office, and any variation or combination of the two models, you can make it easier than ever for employees to explore and reserve the best desk for their needs — helping them make the most out of the time they spend in the office.

Seek solutions to WFH challenges

People may be frustrated by return-to-office strategies that require them to trade in their newfound autonomy for a more rigid schedule. In order to combat that frustration, focus on seeking solutions to their biggest work-from-home challenges.

Virtual meetings, while an incredible feat of technology, are just not a perfect substitute for the real deal. Meeting face-to-face with coworkers boosts trust among teams and provides more context for effective communication. According to several research studies, collaborating in person can lead to greater innovation and productivity, among other benefits.

With that in mind, leaders should be concerned with findings from Gensler Research that showed a significant drop in the amount of time spent collaborating at work — from 43% in 2019 to 27% in 2020.

Therefore, the most critical advantages of working from an office building can be summed up in two words: Collaboration and productivity. 

The bottom line is that employees want in-person meetings again. A simple Google search for "Zoom fatigue" and you'll see countless examples to support that assertion. At home, they're working longer hours and the line of separation between their work and personal lives is a little fuzzier.

Success starts with strategic choices

More than likely, your leadership team has started the discussion about setting the timeline for your return to the office

And because people are looking forward to seeing their colleagues offline and having access to an environment that makes it easier to focus, you have to get your return-to-office plans right.

We know your time is limited and your job is demanding, so we're bringing you more solutions with less hassle. With Teem, you can deploy your agile seating strategy in just moments, not days. Teem makes creating a flexible workplace experience simple, so you don't have to add any new challenges to your plate.

Introduce your employees to the new workplace experience: collaboration that happens in an environment with highly connected digital and physical aspects of work. With Teem's desk booking software, you can open the doors for more collaboration safely. You'll be able to maximize space and save time, too.

The power to pick the best desk to work is now at your employees' fingertips anywhere they go, using the Teem app.

Reinforce your hard work and improve the design and function of your office for better, more meaningful workplace experiences. Learn more about Teem's Return-To-Office Solutions.

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