Ways to encourage staff to return to the office
It’s early March 2020, we’re finally past the season of crazy bush fires, the world seems peaceful, and you’re on your way to your 9-5 in the office – little do you know, your entire life is about to change.
We all have an endless supply of horror stories from when we moved out of the office and into working from home. After years of being told that flexible or remote working was simply not possible… turns out all big businesses needed was to be told it was either that or to stop operating – when there’s a will, there’s a way, right? So off we popped with our new laptops (or our own laptops for those of us who thought it’d only be a few weeks), we set up desks, we took home chairs, we adapted to one screen, and we started bringing our little ones to all our zoom meetings. We baked our sourdough, we got out the timber stain or natural decking oil, and we read those books stacked next to our beds. Many of us got the family time we had been craving for so long, and most of us drank more than we ever have before. It wasn’t long until this working from the home gig was the new normal. No more commutes, no more early starts, plenty of laundry in our lunch break and don’t forget the savings. We definitely missed our freedom, loved ones, and social lives during that hellish two years, but many of us did not miss the office.
So, what now? Don’t get me wrong, we’re all relieved to be ‘on the other side ‘ of this Covid business, but what does that mean for our workplaces, offices, and lives. Can we really expect our workers to return to the office like they didn’t spend the last couple of years getting the most out of work-life balance? Unlikely. Instead, we have to find ways to make a return to the office worthwhile. If you come in gung ho and attempt to force your staff back in, you may find your HR department working overtime.
Chances are your business has managed just fine with work being done remotely; some have even thrived from the focus and dedication of their workers. However, it is undeniable that for some industries, working from home life wasn’t all that easy – it’s a bit hard to manage physical postage or get your high performance team together for their upcoming project. What you might not have realised is that heading back into the office doesn’t need to look the way it did before we left.
Step 1 for getting your staff enthusiastic about a return to the office is to take the time to ask them how they feel about it. If they don’t want to come back into the office, why not? If they do, what does that look like for them? The more you understand your employee’s stance on and thoughts around returning to the office, the more capacity you have to compromise or alleviate their concerns. They just might surprise you with their perspectives on the pros and cons of going back to the office. Perhaps they may be right that working from home is a better fit in some cases.
While we’ve all loved the slower pace of life, the ability to get back to nature, to see our friends and family, to use that tung oil, a lot of us have felt the lack of social interaction with colleagues. When luring your staff back into the office, this is an ideal heartstring to pull on – especially if you have new team members. Working from home did not interrupt the ebb and flow of workers, and plenty of people left jobs during the lockdown and started new ones without meeting any other employees face to face – even their interview was done over Zoom or Teams. Chances are many of your staff members have long since forgotten the joys of a Monday morning gossip with their co-workers or the benefits of a second opinion on what oil free air compressor is best for their pressure washing needs (not all of us know about compressed air audit requirements). One of the best reasons for staff to return to an office setting in some capacity is the interpersonal connections with their team. This connection benefits not only their mental health and sense of job satisfaction but also their productivity and the ability of the team to work dynamically. You might find that the best fit for your team is to all come in on a set number of days a week or fortnight but ensuring that at least one of these days is a whole team affair will make more of a difference than you might think.
The most effective way to motivate and encourage staff back into the office is to ensure that you aren’t taking away the autonomy and balance that working from home has afforded. All good leaders know that micromanaging is rarely effective and often leads to lower outputs, lack of confidence and sometimes even resentment of management. One of the great things many people have found from working at home is that flexibility in their working hours. Being able to decide to start work at 7:30 am before their shower or their breakfast, stop at 9 am to prepare for the day, take a long lunch and work a little extra. If coming into the office is going to remove this capacity, you aren’t going to get many takers. It is absolutely reasonable to expect to be able to require certain times in which your staff are available, but the more you let them work when their brain is at its best, the chances are you’re going to see better and more consistent outputs than it you require them to be available 9-5 Monday to Friday. Evidence shows that staff who are given freedoms and afforded perks and flexibilities perform better and feel a stronger sense of duty to their employer. Don’t let your enthusiasm to return to a post covid world cost you the benefits of being flexible.
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