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10 Ways to Encourage Your Team Back to the Office

If we could go back in our time machines to 2019, I’m sure many of us would never imagine that the workplace was about to alter so significantly in such a short space of time. As the dust begins to settle and the pandemic fog clears, we can see many workplaces have adopted hybrid working, embracing the technology available to help their workers manage their work at home or in the office. Some organisations have become fully remote, and others have stayed fully office-based, though hybrid has emerged as the new standard.

Among the news coverage about the new world of working, you will likely have read of some high-profile employers insisting their teams now make a return to the office full time. Perhaps if the work-from-home interlude had been only weeks or months, just a stopgap, this might make more sense, but it cannot be ignored that the working landscape has changed and so too have the expectations and desires of workers.

Having had a taste of life where work can blend into home in a much more manageable way, people have seen that it is possible to work flexibly. It is now commonplace for jobseekers to prioritise flexibility above other qualities when seeking employment, and even to be deterred from companies who don’t permit working at home in some capacity. For some employees, it can be a deal-breaker if their companies insist on them returning full time to the office, and in fact can make them seek work elsewhere.

According to Forbes’ 4 Biggest Workplace Trends of 2023, remote and hybrid working is set to become the standard way of working, at least for knowledge workers, and they observe that younger workers joining the workforce are arriving with new values and expecting greater flexibility in their working lives.

We are seeing more companies opening their doors for staff to work part of the week in the office again, but this isn’t without its challenges. Pandemic life led to many changes, and in a way, we are emerging from a period of hibernation. One in which we didn’t need to go to the office, we could stay in our homes, and we found that more work could be achieved there.

Understandably, some companies are finding resistance when they request staff to return to the office, or at the least some concerns.

So how do we embrace a hybrid model with multiple locations and encourage teams to want to return to the office whilst being able to address the obstacles that pandemic life put in the way? We’ve put together some of our ideas below, to help you as leaders support your teams as they come back, recognising that the office you closed the door on pre-Covid is going to look pretty different now.  

Reconnect Your People

In designing your plan to encourage teams back to the office, your people should be the beating heart. Something we lose when we’re working away from our colleagues is the interaction and connection with them. Many of us see colleagues more than we do our own families, and often they become friends too. Remote working takes us away from our colleagues and we risk feeling isolated and disconnected. Physical space brings people together again, so a big positive in returning to the office is the ability to be around colleagues and rebuild these relationships.

When thinking about the reasons your teams will want to come back to the office, show them you value this as much as they do and make it easy for them to be able to come together again.

A lot of it how you do this is around the way communication and work planning happens. If you provide the means for staff to know when their colleagues are going to be in the office, they can plan for this and can make their meetings and catch ups timely and meaningful. Team Today offers this with our features, such as Whereabouts for letting everyone know where you will be and seeing where your colleagues will be.

Be flexible

The modern workplace is a moving, travelling, fluid feast. Companies that don’t provide their workers flexible working arrangements risk falling behind as people look elsewhere for jobs that fit in and around their modern lives.  

By choosing a hybrid work schedule, you can offer colleagues the opportunity to work in a more bespoke way, which suits their home lives and family commitments, and enables them to become more productive by selecting the work they do best for office time and for remote working.

But being flexible isn’t just about location. A big driver for getting people back to the office is banishing the obstacles that might keep them away. Not wishing to go back to early starts and the dreaded morning and rush hour commutes can be helped by offering flexible start and finish times, or letting colleagues chose their hourly patterns. Of course, you have to consider the hours that suit the business and there may be a period of core hours that need to be covered, but by allowing some room around this, you are demonstrating to your staff that you care about their time, and you are an adaptable employer.

Review internal comms & activities

Something that isn’t always top of the list when thinking about welcoming people back is to review and assess how you communicate with teams internally and if your systems and methods can be refreshed and upgraded to reflect multi-location working.   Within this, consider opportunities for social events to bring people together who wish to socialise outside of work, and think about the sorts of events these might be. Traditionally, work social events have leaned towards the ‘night out’ or work meal, which doesn’t always fit with all staff.  Here is a chance to get creative and plan events and activities that will fit your teams and be as inclusive as possible.

You might want to introduce weekly events to encourage people to use the office on different days.  Maybe you want to start the week with a Monday breakfast club, to help people tackle that Monday morning feeling by having some good food and a nice introduction to the working week.  Or perhaps mid-week would be a good time to focus on some wellbeing and mindfulness activities, or team brainstorming time. And maybe you could close the week with a Fuddle on a Friday, where everybody brings in a bit of food and you can spend time with colleagues in a relaxed environment.  You can keep to the same events each week or mix them up a bit every now and then.  Whatever you decide, try to focus on activities and offerings that will give something positive to your teams and help them want to come to the office and join in.

And a nice way to mark the beginning of staff returning to the office in some capacity is to welcome them back in the form of a company-wide event or smaller team events to recognise and thank them.  In addition, and as part of your comms review, you may wish to prepare some nice literature or welcome pack setting out how things will be in the new order.

Jazz up the office

The office of the future has arrived. We’re not talking hoverboards to get to the water cooler or holograms coming out of presentation screens, but we are in a new era for office design and if you’re looking to encourage your teams back, you need to provide an office fit for hybrid working and the new working world.

Sometimes described as agile offices, today’s offices need to be many things to many people. No longer simply a building with named desks, a coffee machine, and a toilet. You need to think bigger, but it needn’t cost the world. Much of the changes can be achieved with some clever and creative thinking.

The new office should offer spaces to fit a variety of purposes. Where once you had people in every day working to the same structure, you now have people in on different days for different reasons with different needs.  So, you might have desk space for general use working, desk space for ‘touchdown’ working, i.e., when all you need to do is send a quick email or check something on your system.  Breakout spaces, meeting spaces, and quiet zones. Think about the sorts of activity that will happen and how the spaces should look. With the standardisation of hot-desking, you may move completely away from having individually reserved desks and only have hot desking zones. Create spaces for creative working, collaboration, essential tasks, but also for social time too.

Unlike the traditional office, the new office should be like a hub for your colleagues. Spaces with purpose, spaces to suit your hybrid work schedule so they can be geared up for collaborative working but also for time working alone. And not forgetting resource stations too. The essentials – copier, printer, drinks station/kitchenette – should be together so they can be used as a catch-up space as well as functional.

Agile offices provide more efficient use of space, improved collaboration, and increased productivity.

Create a healthy environment

Coming out of a major global pandemic, people understandably may have concerns about their health at work that they may not have given as much thought to before. In planning your office environment, consider how to make it as conducive to good health and wellbeing as possible. Well-maintained facilities, hand-cleaning stations, enough ventilation, and appropriate temperatures.

Some staff may be apprehensive about being in crowded environments. This is where your quiet spaces come in as they offer a space away from busy areas. And focus on wellbeing. Make sure your wellbeing policies and procedures are up to date and reflect current working practices, so that you can support your staff and help them look after their mental health at work.

Upgrade your tech

It’s likely you’re already using video conferencing software to enable meetings between locations to take place and this should continue. Part of making the transition between office and home as easy as possible is ensuring everybody is fully equipped with the tech they need. This extends to the software and apps you use too.

Hybrid world incentives

Time was that a good benefits package might have featured a gym membership, private healthcare, and childcare support. All good benefits but the return to the office brings with it the need for some new benefits. In the cost-of-living crisis and austerity times we are finding ourselves in, paying for commuting and food and drink to bring to work can be costly. As a company, consider the support it will give to your teams if you provide assistance with these costs. Perhaps a travel voucher scheme, healthy snacks available at work, and of course continuing to offer help with childcare costs. Anything you can do to help ease the pressure in difficult times will act as its own incentive to bringing your teams back to the office.

New ways of training

Review your training and consider whether it needs to be only based around training courses or whether there are other ways to impart knowledge to colleagues. Of course, there will always be areas that need to be taught in a certain way using training materials, such as safeguarding, health and safety, fire safety, etc. But not everything we learn can be captured in such a way as to be delivered like this. So, think about mentoring programmes. Particularly for younger colleagues entering the workplace, the benefits of having a guide in the form of an experienced colleague as a mentor are invaluable. Think of ways for colleagues to share their knowledge and advice regularly, so that it can be passed on to whomever needs it.

For colleagues contemplating the return to the office, it is important to let them know how their career progression and skills development will happen and to be innovative in how you plan this.

Involve your teams

Who better to ask how things should be than the people who use them? Get your teams involved in the planning of the office, how things will look and work, and ask them about what matters to them. What are their worries, concerns, and any obstacles they see to coming back? We know you can’t meet every individual need but with the right planning and an open mind, you can provide an inclusive office space that is suitable for the hybrid world.

Lead by example

And last but never least, practice what you preach. It’s no good going to all the effort to turn your office into a new world hub of hybrid loveliness if you don’t go there yourself.
Make sure you include all managers, leaders, directors, in the planning for the office return. Staff should see you and be able to work with you, interact with you, learn from you, and collaborate with you. Nurturing the next generation of managers and supporting all staff, you need to be with them.

This is our ‘starter for ten,’ and there is a wealth of helpful advice and information online for those of you looking to support your staff to make the return. For more insights and articles, visit our blog here.

Madeleine Thompson

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