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November 15, 2023
March 1, 2024

Navigating the Return to the Office: A Guide for Leaders

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Many companies are deciding that the time for remote work is over. And while returning to the office can bring both companies and employees some great benefits, the transition from remote work to office work can be jarring.

That’s why it’s important for both leaders and employees to prepare for a return-to-office (RTO) mandate. Whether you’re a leader wanting to implement a RTO policy, or you’re an employee who is dreading leaving the comfort of your home, this post will help you make the transition as painless and seamless as possible.

Potential Benefits of Working in the Office

Despite the fact that many employees have enjoyed working from home, in-office work and face-to-face interactions can bring some benefits that shouldn’t be overlooked. These benefits include:

  • Enhanced work-life separation. Working from home can blur the line between work and home because everything is done in the same space. Working in the office can help people maintain healthy boundaries.
  • Improved collaboration and relationships. Feelings of isolation are a real problem for remote employees. Being in the office can help employees work together, build camaraderie, and strengthen relationships.
  • Increased productivity. Employees can be productive anywhere, and many people feel more productive at home. But others feel more productive at the office—42% say the ability to access information quickly and easily has a big impact on their productivity.
  • Increased engagement. One study shows that employees who work primarily remotely are 182% less engaged than their in-office counterparts.

Let’s face it. Not everyone wants to go back into the office, and for some, these benefits aren’t worth the tradeoffs. However, these benefits are notable, and if you want to enjoy them by returning to the office, here are some ways to make the transition easier.

Tips for Leaders When Carrying Out a Return to the Office

For executives and HR leaders, announcing and implementing a return to the office can be tough, especially if employees have been working from home since the COVID pandemic. With 61% of employees wanting to work remotely indefinitely, and 49% of them worried about work-life balance, here are some best practices to make in-office work less disruptive.

Communicate Early and Communicate Often

If you plan on reducing or eliminating remote work, the worst thing you can do is announce that the change is happening immediately. Some employees may not have transportation, some may take care of children, or some may just really enjoy being at home. Rushing this transition will immediately cause stress for many people.

Instead, announce that the change will happen on a future date. Tell employees of your plan, and announce ways that the company will help them transition back into the office. This preparation period will ease the worries of many.

Update Your Office to Make Work More Rewarding

Employees don’t want to sit in a boring office all day. If you want your people to be excited to come back to the office, you have to make the space exciting and rewarding to be in. Consider:

  • Ditching cubicles and opening up spaces to foster collaboration (which is one of the main benefits of in-office work, right?)
  • Updating office equipment such as chairs and desks to ensure everyone’s comfort
  • Boosting your break room with healthy snacks, drinks, and meal options to help those who may not have time to put together their own food
  • Creating spaces that allow employees to get away from crowds, relax, and focus on their tasks
  • Investing in tech to make work, including hybrid work, easier

As part of your plan, survey your employees to find out which amenities would mean the most to them. A return to the office is much more palatable when the office meets people’s needs.

Offer as Much Flexibility As Possible

Not everyone is going to be happy about returning to the office—some people may not feasibly be able to return. In these cases, try to offer some flexibility where you can. Whether that means giving them a longer transitory period, offering hybrid work, or letting them choose their hours, let employees choose a return method that is best for them.

One strategy could be allowing employees some flexibility on when they work instead of where because a staggering 94% of employees say they want greater flexibility to choose their hours.

Whether you offer hybrid work or flexible hours, set clear boundaries and expectations. Make sure employees are clocking in and out on time, try to minimize meetings, and don’t micromanage.

Take Employee Concerns Into Account

Whatever you do, DON’T assume you know what’s best for everyone. Some employees may run into challenges as they try to return to the office. Others may wish the office had certain benefits that would make work easier for them. This type of feedback is priceless for making the in-office transition work for everyone.

Address employee concerns, don’t ignore them. Adjust your return-to-the-office plan as needed and strive to make the transition rewarding for everyone, not just those who thrive on in-person work.

Tips for Employees When Returning to the Office

For those who may be nervous or upset about a return-to-the-office mandate, there are strategies you can try to make the transition easier. Here are some ideas.

Keep an Open Mind

No matter what the company does, if you approach the return to the office with a negative mindset, it’s going to be a negative change. While the transition may be tough, keeping an open mind will help you see the benefits, even if they’re only silver linings.

Readjust Your Workday

Returning to the office lets you readjust your priorities when in the office. Try to prioritize tasks and projects that require collaboration or that are difficult to do remotely. Emphasize building work relationships and having fun. Also, make your commute more enjoyable with podcasts, audiobooks, or a phone call to a loved one.

Set Realistic Expectations

You can’t expect yourself to jump back into in-office work and do everything you need to do—that’s a recipe for burnout. Instead, give yourself some time to get back up to speed. Distribute your time and energy to the most important activities and take things slow.

Establish a Morning Routine

Working remotely usually means sleeping in a bit and then tiredly shuffling into your home office. Transitioning to the office lets you create a more engaging, energizing morning routine. Consider waking up a little earlier to shower, choose an outfit, and prepare a lunch. You may even try exercising or meditating before work to start the day off right.

Returning to the Office Can Work

Everyone has been through a lot these past few years. By being understanding of others’ situations and by following these best practices, leaders and employees can make the best of their new work environment and reap the rewards of a more collaborative and productive workspace.