Now that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, C-suite Executives are thinking about "The Great Return." The million-dollar question on everybody's mind? How to best get employees back into the office.
The Property Council of Australia has been keeping track of occupancy levels, which recently looked to be making a comeback across the nation. However, of late, they suffered another setback as a new wave of omicron and flu cases kept people at home, driving office occupancy down for the first time in months.
Opal Taps offs at the Sydney CBD correlate with this data:
A recent Twitter war between Tesla's Elon Musk and Atlassian's Scott Farquhar brought the issue of return-to-office mandates to the surface. Here, Musk warned that Tesla and SpaceX employees would lose their job if they did not return for a minimum of 40 hours a week. And Farquhar responded to by saying it "Feels like something out of the 1950s" and encouraged Musk's employees to apply for a job at Atlassian.
Naturally, most companies remain unsure of which road to take. Many believe that simply mandating a return might lead to dissatisfaction or, worse, resignations - an even bigger headache in light of the labour shortage.
Employers believe losing face time means their teams lose the ability to collaborate, share ideas and feed off one another's energy. Companies also lose the opportunity to differentiate their employment brand from their competitors. And with real estate being a company's second-highest cost after salaries, it's only natural to want to see a return.
However, now more than ever, employees are looking for flexibility, freedom and security in their work and work environment. The prospect of returning to the office has also conjured up mixed emotions - from relief and enthusiasm to fear and uncertainty.
Many people are resisting the call back to their cubicles because they're worried, don't see the value of a return, view the office as a 'hassle' or believe themselves to be more productive from home. On the other hand, those looking forward to returning may be faced with empty offices and fewer amenities and are therefore not getting the same value out of the workplace.
Solving the return-to-office dilemma is not easy, but if you're looking for ways to entice staff back to the office, try one or a combination of the tips below.
Remember that your changes don't need to be big or expensive (a little creativity goes a long way!). They do, however, need to be meaningful - put careful thought and planning into the experience you want to create. Your offering needs to go beyond a welcome back gift or free lunch.
What's the number one way to encourage employees to come back? Ensure they are 'heard' and included in the transition.
Before jumping back to how things were, take a step back and listen to your employees. Note concerns, discuss what your company is doing right and what needs to be improved, stay considerate (see point 7) and don't make assumptions.
You can do this through one-on-one meetings or via company-wide surveys. And it will go a long way to building goodwill and ensuring your employees feel valued.
Communication is a two-way street. While listening to employee feedback, you should also stay clear about your reasoning and expectations. Be transparent and explain to your employees the value of having them back in the office and why you're making certain decisions.
Before asking your employees to come back, take a look at your office. Is it an environment that your staff will want to come back to? Is it conducive to fostering the benefits you're promising? Will it make your team feel valued?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, then consider what needs to change to make your office a place your employees want to be. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Even with COVID-19 regulations relaxing, plenty of people remain nervous about the virus's ongoing threat.
You need to give these people certainty and demonstrate that the office is a safe place for them to be. So, clearly communicate your covid-safe plan and the changes you've made (or will make) around the office, which may include:
Now more than ever, people are looking for social connection and professional opportunities. And it's one of the big drawcards of the office.
So organise ongoing, meaningful team building or company-wide activities that allow your employees to connect and socialise and give them a tangible reason to be in the office. For instance, you could consider:
Whatever you decide, make it purposeful.
Incentives can ease the transition and help keep employers competitive. Here are a few examples that other companies are trying:
If a staff member still has genuine concerns or fears, don't force them to come in. It will only lead to unnecessary stress. Remain considerate and work with them on a solution they are comfortable with.
People might also be nervous about coming into the office when they have an upcoming event, like a holiday or wedding. So, stay flexible with people during these times.
We can't stress the importance of communication enough. Even once you've established your return-to-work plan, keep communicating with your employees and adapting your policies. The working landscape and employee expectations are constantly changing. So, if you want to retain talent, you need to stay flexible and change with it. Consider:
We have to face the facts. Many employees just don't want to return to the office full-time. It's clear that the physical office still has a purpose, but a push to return five days a week might suggest a bit of "old-school thinking."
Perhaps we need to change how we view work and permanently adopt a more hybrid approach, like giving people the freedom to choose where they want to work or only designating certain days or times to be in the office.
There's no one-size-fits-all solution. Before making any changes, consider the need for your employees to return to work. Remember to think about whether it's essential, safe and mutually agreed.
Whatever path you take is unlikely to keep everyone happy. Going to the office never really worked for everyone; it was just what everyone did. So, do some soul searching. Explore why you want people back (and how often) and whether your strategy will help you achieve these goals.
For many businesses, the 'new normal' will be a balance of fixed and flexible working, leaving many considering how much office space they will need in the future. Property costs are usually the highest fixed costs for businesses, so any space-saving will boost the bottom line.
Are you looking to reduce your office space or renegotiate your lease? Contact the team at Tenant CS. We're independent commercial real estate experts that exclusively represent tenants.
Get in touch with our team today!