The post-pandemic question that continues to plague many managers today is this: Do we really need to bring everyone back to the office?
Return to office (RTO) policies have been a topic of considerable discussion, with opinions and strategies varying widely.
While some businesses eagerly embraced in-person work, others have recognized the benefits of remote work and flexibility.
Numbers don't lie
From September 6 to 13, 2023, office badge swipes in the 10 biggest United States cities are at about 50% of what they were prior to the pandemic, according to data from Kastle Systems.
The numbers signify a glaring reality that nobody can deny: the push for a complete return to the office has plateaued.
While it's an improvement from the 25% occupancy rates in September 2020 or the 34% attendance in 2021, it's also an indication that the momentum to bring everyone back to the office has leveled off.
The mandates didn't stick, as experts like Caitlin Duffy, Research Director of Employee Experience at Gartner, pointed out.
There hasn’t been a rush of new businesses announcing strict return requirements or enforcing them, she noted.
The remote work revolution
One reason for this resistance to a full return to the office is the remote work revolution that has taken place over the past couple of years.
Many employees have discovered the benefits of working from home, including the productivity gains, improved work-life balance, and increased job satisfaction that remote work can provide.
More importantly, the flexibility that remote work offers has become a differentiating factor in a competitive job market.
Many employees have had their best years while working remotely, a shift in perspective that suggests that current return to office memos may need a careful reevaluation.
Balancing the benefits of onsite work
While remote work undoubtedly offers numerous advantages, we cannot ignore the benefits of in-person work.
There are aspects of in-person collaboration and office dynamics that are hard to replicate in a remote setting.
Here are some tips you may want to consider as you rethink the organization’s return to office strategies:
Hybrid work models
Instead of an all-or-nothing approach, consider implementing hybrid work models, which allows employees to choose when and how often they come to the office.
It strikes a balance between the benefits of in-person collaboration and the flexibility of remote work.
Always involve your employees in decision-making.
Collect feedback on their preferences, concerns, and experiences with remote and in-person work.
This can help shape return to office policies that are more in tune with employee needs.
Instead of tying office attendance to performance evaluations, consider other metrics to assess employee productivity and contributions.
Focus on results rather than location.
Recognize the impact of commuting on employees’ lives. For many, long commutes erode work-life balance and productivity.
Consider flexible scheduling and remote work options to reduce the burden of commuting, or better yet, provide daily transportation to ferry them safely and on time to the office.
Health and safety
In a world still grappling with health concerns, prioritize the health and safety of your employees.
Be transparent about safety measures and ensure employees feel comfortable returning to the office.
By finding the right balance and focusing on what's best for employees and the organization, managers can navigate this new world of work successfully.
In doing so, they can ensure that returning to the office is not just a return to the old days, but a step forward toward a more flexible and fulfilling work environment.