How to Encourage Employees to Return Back to the Office

Nov 3

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Have you determined that bringing your employees back to the office is the best course of action for your organization? If so, you may be struggling with how to help your team feel enthusiastic about it. If that’s the case, rest assured that you’re not alone. 

After nearly two years of working from home, returning to the office is a challenging shift for many to make. The good news is that with a bit of strategy (plus a whole lot of patience and compassion), you can help your team adjust to the idea of going back to the office and recognize the benefit of doing so. 

If you’re not sure where to turn from here, keep reading to learn SIX things to keep in mind for your return to office plan.

6 Ways to Support Your Team Through Your Office Return Process

When it comes to tackling the problem of employees not wanting to come back to work, it may be tempting to lay down the law or rule with an iron fist to get the job done. And you certainly need to communicate your return to office policies firmly and prioritize your organization’s needs.

At the same time, try to view things from their position. It’s crucial to earn your team’s trust and assure them that their well-being is in safe hands. In other words, remember to lead with empathy above all else. Here are six ways to do that: 

Propose an inspiring vision (while acknowledging the team’s feelings)

When you’re talking to your employees about coming back to the office (whether through written notices or facetime), always try to keep your tone and word use top of mind to deliver your message in an effective and balanced way. Do your best to keep things light-hearted and give off a positive energy that softens the return-to-office blow. 

On the other hand, it’s also prudent to avoid being overly upbeat and preppy because that may come across as inauthentic. The truth is, a large proportion of both leaders and staff members have found their work-from-home rhythm over the past several months, so coming back to the office is a tough change all around. 

Being vulnerable with your own struggles to adjust will help demonstrate that you understand your team’s feelings. Explain that while transitioning back to the office will be challenging at first, exciting things are on the horizon! 

Dig deep into your team’s resistance

To create an effective plan for bringing your employees back to work, start by understanding what’s holding them back from embracing the change. Avoid making assumptions here because there could be a million factors at play. 

Consider sending out a survey or putting together some focus groups (remember to include employees from all company departments and levels) to learn the emotional and practical reasons people are resistant to moving away from working from home. 

Then, look into some actionable solutions to address those pain points and communicate them clearly to your team.

For instance:

  • Problem: Are there concerns around safety?
  • Potential solution: Incorporate an intensive safety guide that involves a robust screening process and the necessary personal safety items. 

Just to name a few. 

Another potential resistance is: perhaps your team just doesn’t think coming back to the office is necessary! 

After all, they’ve successfully worked remotely over the past several months. In that case, you may want to consider putting together some data that demonstrates why collaborating in the office will be more effective. 

For example, you can remind them that it’s not just about getting work done; it’s also about emphasizing the in-person, human connection needed to build a thriving culture. 

People taking part in a workplace meeting in the boardroom

Remember: your team’s reasons for wanting to stay home likely aren’t just excuses but genuine and legitimate concerns. If you can demonstrate that you hear them and will work hard to create solutions, you’ll be much more successful at winning your employees back into the office. 

Create a solid, efficient return to office plan

Now that you’ve gathered all that data, it’s time to develop a plan that lays out precisely how and when your employees will return to the office. People generally fear chaos and value stability, so letting your team know what to expect will go a long way.

Don’t be afraid to look around in your industry to observe how other companies are bringing their employees back to work, but remember that your organization has its own unique needs. 

Consider forming a return to office committee with leaders and frontline workers to evaluate all possible logistical angles. Also, an effective plan should include milestones and timelines. Some critical elements to include in your return to office plan are: 

  • Government guidelines and regulations
  • Team or department reintegration order 
  • Office design and technology 
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Physical distancing and other safety measures

Check out the Society for Human Resource Management’s return to work checklist for a more comprehensive list of considerations.  

Lastly, remember that it’s not just about the initial hurdle of getting people back in the office. Try to put measures for monitoring progress in place so you can respond appropriately if things don’t quite go as planned. 

Provide mental health support

It’s no secret that COVID-19 unleashed a deluge of mental health challenges and illnesses into our society. You might have noticed your employees struggling to remain present and work effectively over the past several months.

Returning to the office is undoubtedly a stressful prospect for many people on your team, so we recommend a few things. 

First, talk about it! Refuse to allow the topic to be stigmatized. Consider running a team poll to gauge where everyone’s mental health is at, and begin the conversation there. 

Second, recognize that stress management is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to everyone. It may be helpful to host training sessions focused on showing people how to recentre themselves and maintain high-performance abilities even during frustrating times. Our Make Stress Your Superpower workshop is the perfect place to start.

And third, create and distribute a list of resources your team can refer back to or share with friends and family when needed. Check out our master list of mental health resources for online counsellors, self-help books, and apps to make psychological wellness more accessible. 

We’re always updating our collection, Workplace Mental Health, so that your team can participate in advocating for and supporting mental health together. These  activities and workshops are all found in our Marketplace. Your team can use our Poll feature to vote for activities they are interested in.

Replicate home luxuries and comforts in the office

Okay, we’ve gone through safety, productivity, mental health, and other pretty serious concerns your team might have about returning to the office. 

But here’s the other side of the coin: your team may not want to come back to work simply because they’ve gotten used to certain things like the ability to exercise consistently and eat tasty, home-cooked meals while working from home. 

Consider incentives like individually packaged meals that make healthy eating safe, easy and enjoyable, as well as fitness programs for self-care. Both boost the convenience of working in the office and are fantastic ways to support your employees’ mental health. 

Those suggestions are basic places to start, but it may be helpful to run another poll to determine the type of services that would make working from the office more comfortable. 

Be flexible and give people time to adjust

Lastly, the key term for everyone to remember while companies like yours are returning to the office is “transition.” As mentioned in the beginning, encouraging people to come back to the office will take a lot of patience, empathy and compassion. 

And while it’s certainly a good idea to keep an eye on others in your industry, don’t be too hasty to act when other companies are going back to the office. Focus on what’s best for your organization. We also suggest padding your return-to-office plan with lots of flexibility to give people the time and space they need to adjust to the change. 

For example, if everyone is currently working from home full-time, communicate a far-off date (if possible, at least several months) by which your employees will be on-site. Then, you can get them used to it over time by bringing everyone in a couple of days a week and increasing that frequency over time.  

Want more guidance for how to encourage your employees to come back to the office? 

All over the world, companies are planning when and how they will go back to the office. While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, we have plenty of services to support your process. 
If you need more backup, check out our Return to Office page for ideas, inspiration and resources to cover all your blindspots!

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