What will (and won’t) encourage employees back to the office

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Why employers who are keen for people to come back – even for part of the week – need to make the office attractive again.

As Covid-19 vaccination programmes advance and restrictions ease, anyone expecting the world of work to go ‘back to normal’ may well feel disappointed.

As the crisis recedes, it’s clear that the way people live and work has changed for good. According to the Office for National Statistics, 85% of adults who worked from home during periods of lockdown now want to split their time between working remotely and at their company office.

Hybrid working – a model that empowers employees to spend part of their time at home, some at the corporate HQ and some at a third location, such as a flexible workspace – is the preferred option among employees. Many people have found that a reduction in commuting can offer improved mental and emotional wellbeing, better physical health and enhanced work-life balance.

A recent study by IWG even found that, when asked if they would prefer hybrid working or a 10% pay rise, 72% of office workers would prefer autonomy over their work and commuting schedule to extra money.

This highlights the shift in priorities that Covid-19 has inspired for many employees, emphasising that few will be keen for a return to old-fashioned office routines.

Hybrid working vs ‘The Great Resignation’

Already, there appears to be a divide between employers who feel determined to bring staff back to the office and those who are happy to allow hybrid working for the long term.

From tech giants such as Google to global enterprises such as BP, forward-looking firms are embracing the hybrid future. More and more companies are also recognising that giving employees the option to work from a local flexible workspace combines the benefits of office working with the convenience of staying close to home.

At the other end of the spectrum is ‘The Great Resignation’ – a phenomenon that’s causing concern among business leaders. Coined by Anthony Klotz, Professor of Management at Texas A&M University, the phrase refers to the exceedingly high levels of employee resignations seen so far this year, as well as reports of ‘intent to quit’.

In April, more than four million American workers left their posts, according to a summary from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics – the biggest spike in resignations on record. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Work Trend Index survey of more than 31,000 workers around the world confirms 41% of people – almost half the global workforce – are considering quitting their jobs in 2021.

According to a study by Stanford University, workers who felt unsure about their jobs before Covid-19 may have been pushed to ‘quitting point’ by poor management during the crisis. What’s vital now, however, is that employers don’t inspire people to resign by mishandling ‘return to work’ policy.

Dr LaNail R Plummer, CEO of Onyx Therapy Group, told Forbes magazine: “Forcing people to go back to the office communicates to employees that their company doesn’t value what the best work environment may be for [them].” Dr Plummer suggests that pushing employees to work in ways that aren’t good for their wellbeing is likely to lead to resignations.

Acas advises that “hybrid working can help businesses retain staff… as the flexibility allows them to balance work and personal responsibilities”. It suggests that businesses consult with employees before defining policy on how and where people will work post-pandemic.

The (hybrid) future’s bright

Productivity is a key issue for employers considering hybrid working. Before Covid-19, many assumed that allowing staff to work remotely would have negative effects – but research from CIPD shows that it either led to no significant change or actually helped to improve productivity during lockdowns.

Elsewhere, Accenture has found that 63% of organisations with high-growth characteristics have enabled ‘productivity anywhere’ workforce models, whereas 69% of those with negative or no growth are still focused on where their people work. Overall, it seems clear that happier employees are more productive employees.

A study by EY shows that companies can save about $11,000 for each employee who works in a hybrid manner, in part thanks to potential savings on real estate – further proof that the model can bolster the bottom line.

The reduction in commuting that comes with hybrid working can help employers hit environmental goals, too. By reducing the need for people to commute, a firm can significantly cut its carbon footprint.

Reimagining ‘the office’

Adopting a hybrid working policy doesn’t have to mean the end for the office. IWG Founder and CEO Mark Dixon points out that it will remain important “in terms of corporate identity, learning and cohesion” and can be a “priceless cultural asset for a business”.

In a hybrid world, tasks that require focus are likely to be done remotely, so open-plan offices with endless rows of desks are no longer needed. Instead, corporate HQs will become places for collaboration and connection, and will feature areas dedicated to discussion, active work and creativity. Digital technology that allows for staff to work with in-person and remote colleagues will also be crucial, with meeting spaces equipped for online/offline get-togethers.

According to Morgan Lovell, the corporate offices of the future “need to become destinations”. Given the extra effort employees must make to get there, “the benefits reaped [should] make it truly worth the extra bother”.

Post-pandemic, businesses will be looking to enhance their offices’ hygiene and safety features, too. Touch-free tech that allows contactless entry into workspaces, as well as no-touch operation of lights, lifts and door locks, may become common.

The law of attraction

When it comes to bringing employees back to the office, it’s clear that the key is compromise. People want hybrid working, and – while it might make some firms nervous – the approach offers benefits for employers and employees alike.

Creating a clear hybrid working policy that is designed with people at its heart is critical – as is making the office somewhere that employees actively want to be.

Ultimately, the genie is out of its bottle, says Dixon. “Over the last 18 months we’ve seen businesses recognise the benefits hybrid working has on their bottom line, but our latest research demonstrates the importance of hybrid working to the lifestyles and happiness of employees across the country.”

With locations in thousands of neighbourhoods all over the world, find out how Regus can help your business thrive in the new, hybrid world of work