5 ways to make returning to the office more appealing

Many employees are reluctant to return to the office, at least full-time. A recent survey found that 86% of white-collar workers want to work from home at least two days per week. 

Companies like Twitter, Shopify, Spotify, Salesforce, and many others are allowing their employees to work remotely indefinitely. Many others are embracing a hybrid approach, with more than half of Fortune 500 CEOs saying that two to three days in the office per week is ideal for knowledge workers.   

While working in pajamas may be more comfortable—and even, for some people, more productive—there is much value in coming to the office. But how are companies getting their people back to the workplace?

Below we discuss the challenges of remote working and share five ways companies can ease the return to office by addressing employees’ priorities and wellbeing.

The challenges of working remotely

For all the freedom working remotely offers, it’s not without its headaches and limitations.

Here are some of the challenges of remote work:

  • Data from Microsoft shows that remote employees often form insular “clusters” with direct team members while interactions with other colleagues suffer. This results in info silos, groupthink, and low innovation. 
  • Google’s 2021 staff survey found that remote work negatively impacts well-being, as employees find it more difficult to detach from work after hours. 
  • Many remote workers report that they’ve been more distracted than ever. Reasons include a lack of dedicated workspace, difficulty maintaining a routine, and chores (and children!) competing for attention.
  • Collaboration suffers without in-person interactions, which are often less formal and more engaging, giving rise to better ideas.
  • Remote work simply doesn’t offer the same social (and networking) element as working in an office. Employees crave face-to-face interactions and many suffer from “Zoom fatigue”.
  • Remote workers have less direct access to leadership and may miss out on training and other career development opportunities. Remote workers also may be more likely to be passed up for promotion compared to their on-site colleagues. 

How companies can get employees back to the office

Make their lives easier

A recent employee retention report found that work-life balance is the top factor influencing whether employees remain in their current job. 

Anything you can do to make it easier for employees to manage the pressures of day-to-day life will make it a bit easier for them to return to office life.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Offering childcare solutions, whether it’s on-site daycare or a childcare subsidy. An estimated 50 million workers (a third of the U.S. workforce) have a child under the age of 14 in their household, and a shortage of affordable daycare is a growing barrier, particularly for women. 
  • 79% of employees say the lack of a daily commute is the best part of remote work. Finding ways to improve the commute, like offering free parking, subsidizing gas and/or public transit costs, organizing company carpools or shuttles, or giving employees podcast or audiobook subscriptions.   
  • Introducing more flexible and inclusive leave policies that make provision for childcare, family emergencies, mental health, medical needs, and other personal priorities.
  • Providing in-office perks like catered meals and snacks, on-site gym facilities, laundry and dry-cleaning services, and other ways to help employees check items off their to-do lists. Playstation saw a 140% increase in office attendance when they brought hot food back to the office.
  • Installing on-site package delivery lockers that mean employees don’t need to worry about package theft if they’re not home to receive them. 

Create appealing work environments

Find ways to make the office a more appealing place in which to work and socialize.

Some tips:

  • Create thoughtfully-designed workspaces that prioritize collaboration, socialization, and professional growth, as well as quiet spaces that allow employees to do “deep work” (aka “me” and “we” spaces)
  • Introducing spaces that allow employees to refuel (nap, meditate, do yoga, work out, or whatever they did to recharge at home) can also help to make the office more appealing.
  • Providing private spaces for nursing mothers to pump can significantly ease their return to the office.
  • If possible, create outdoor workspaces. Working outdoors offers numerous benefits including increased creativity and morale, plus it allows covid-wary employees to feel safer when collaborating face-to-face. Once a champion of open-plan offices, Google is reportedly planning to introduce outdoor tents, “robotic balloon walls”, and team pods to facilitate safer workspaces
  • Consider improving your office space’s ventilation and introducing air filters to your air conditioning/HVAC system. If you don’t have air conditioning already, get it. As summers get hotter, this in itself can be a way to entice employees into the office. 

Provide social opportunities

One of the crucial aspects of the physical workspace is the opportunity for social interaction it provides. Virtual “watercoolers” are no match for spontaneous in-person conversations, and many employees have missed these opportunities for connection and cultivating social capital

Some ways you could promote socialization include:

  • Offer ways for employees to connect with others, such as shared meals, games and contests, birthday celebrations, in-person happy hours, and company milestone celebrations. 
  • Host networking events like Meetups or workshops for people in your industry. You could invite experts to lead discussions on topics that your employees are interested in. 
  • Consider launching a volunteering program or project for a cause your employees feel passionate about and setting aside several paid hours per month to allow them to participate. 
  • Start a book club to encourage learning and discussion, letting employees take turns selecting the book. 

Emphasize professional development opportunities

Two-thirds of millennial women aged 25–40 believe that not returning to the office could cost them career growth opportunities. It stands to reason that out-of-sight employees can easily be “out-of-mind” employees. Giving employees opportunities to advance their professional growth and make a favorable impression on management can be a compelling way to lure them into the office.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Develop training and professional development opportunities that emphasize in-person participation. 93% of employees say they’d be likely to stay longer at a company that invests in their career. 
  • Launch an internal mentorship program that encourages regular face-to-face meetings.
  • Give employees opportunities to spend time with management over coffee or lunch in small groups or one-on-one.
  • Encourage employees to present talks about topics they’re learning about or deliver pitches about ideas they have that could help the company grow. This is a great way to get employees to feel engaged and excited about the work and help driven employees get noticed. 

Make work outcomes-based 

9 out of 10 employees want flexibility in terms of location and work hours. If they had to choose, 54% would prefer setting their own hours and 40% would choose flexibility in location. 

One way to offer employees greater flexibility is by adopting an outcomes-based model which places emphasis on the results instead of the number of hours employees spent sitting at their desks. 

  • Set clear goals and metrics and hard deadlines but allow employees to determine how (and when) they’ll deliver the outcomes. 
  • Set specific core hours and days for meetings and in-person collaboration and give employees the flexibility to independently choose how, when, and where to get the work done.
  • Provide employees with the tools they need to work as efficiently as possible, so they don’t need to spend more time than absolutely necessary on manual admin. Workflow automation tools can be a game-changer. 

Preparing for the future of work

Getting employees back into the office is sure to be a challenge, but challenges don’t have to be impossibilities. Hear how the Workplace team at PagerDuty is redefining the workplace for its people — and the planet.