2024 Trends in Return to Office

2024 Trends in Return to office

2024 Trends in Return to Office

Less than a year ago, I wrote an article titled The Many Facets of “Return to Office” Decisions. In it I discuss the debate between employers’ return to office mandates and the employees who (having experienced the many benefits of remote work) resist returning to the office. As we embark on 2024, now several years after the event that dramatically reshaped our work environments and expectations, what is the current state of this debate?

Employers Push for Return to Office (RTO)

While many employees love their two-second commute, just as many employers are doubling down and becoming more forceful in requiring employees to return to the office. In the past month alone, several articles and LinkedIn posts were published highlighting corporate actions and policies regarding RTO:

  • Amazon, Bank of America, and IBM are requiring employees to be in the office a minimum number of days per week, tracking attendance and implementing strict disciplinary action.
  • Layoff decisions may be targeted at remote workers, like what happened at Wayfair.

These are just a few of the headlines that caught my attention, but the message is clear – many companies are moving toward returning staff to the office. We know from decades of successful business working in offices that there are benefits to employees physically being together. We cannot deny that this traditional model:

  • helps foster collaboration.
  • strengthens company culture.
  • aids in monitoring performance.
  • utilizes office space they have committed to.
  • addresses security concerns of sensitive information.

And we cannot deny that technology has enhanced our ability to accomplish a similar effectiveness when employees work in a distributed model.

Employee’s View on RTO

According to Harvard Business Review, “… 60% of employees say the cost of going to the office outweighs the benefits, 67% feel that going to the office requires more effort than it did pre-pandemic, and 73% say it feels more expensive. Unsurprisingly, 48% of employees say RTO mandates prioritize what leaders want over what employees need to do good work.”

For many employees, the costs of in-person work do not outweigh the benefits. Personal preferences aside, studies have not shown productivity gains with in-person work. In fact, according to Gartner research there is no statistically significant impact on performance positively or negatively when workers are in the office. Without a reason (they feel is valid) to be in the office, employees are understandably resistant.

Is There an Answer?

So, what is the solution? How can we bridge the gap between corporate policy and employee preferences? How can employers attract and retain talent when their goals of RTO are in direct conflict with what employees want?

I have listed key points employers should consider before determining major shifts in their employees’ work environment:

Communicate

Communicate early and often about new policies. Explain why the decision is important for the company and its employees and include clear timelines. Solicit input and feedback loops through surveys and other mechanisms.

Several years into the pandemic means that employees have created routines for working remotely. Give them an opportunity to process the news and offer input. Look for answers to these questions:

  • What does this mean to my employees?
  • How will this affect their work/life balance?
  • Will this create hardships for them? Will this have a negative monetary impact?
  • How can we make RTO workable for them?

A Hybrid Future

As employers push for returns to the office, there is a clear trend toward a hybrid schedule. According to research by Build Remote.co, 75% of Fortune 100 companies have adopted a hybrid schedule and 45% have reduced their office space footprints.

Hybrid schedules offer a good mix of in-person and remote work. They allow for face time in the office, while also allowing workers to save money and time on their commute and work with less interruptions. The option of a hybrid schedule is one way to “meet in the middle” and accommodate both the employer and employee.

Flexible Office Hours

Give your employees flexibility in start and end times, days of the week, and number of days. Allowing employees to retain some control of their schedule may be what individuals need to be able to return to the office seamlessly and avoid long commutes or complex child/elder/pet care support systems.

Compensation

Consider supporting an offset of the new expenses that employees are incurring as they return to the office. How can you incentivize and reward employees for “giving it a try” back at the office? Can you pilot the return by asking for volunteers to “go first” and share feedback? Incentives and motivation need to go beyond bagels and coffee – it’s a change – again – to go back. How can it be supported with positive benefits rather than merely mandated with negative consequences? If monetary incentives are not an option, look for other benefits – additional PTO, free parking, mileage allowance, daycare, or elder care.

Remember the Best Practices for Change

Returning to the office will be a major change for your employees and should be treated as such. As with any change, this will likely be met with resistance, a natural human reaction.

Employers can reduce this resistance by applying Change Management techniques to keep the employee view in focus and consider all areas that will be impacted. Managing the change well will address reasons for resistance, support company goals and values and provide a framework to successfully achieve the steps of a well-designed change plan:

When the pandemic hit, employers were reacting to minimize disruption.  As we face another shift in the work environment, employers now have the opportunity to create a well-thought-out plan that will benefit both the employer and the employee.

As this next phase evolves, it is important for employers to remember that the collective wisdom and collaboration of their workforce is their most valuable asset. By demonstrating a commitment to employee-centric decision making, companies can deepen their culture of trust, respect, and adaptability.

Sources Referenced in this Article:

Do RTO Mandates Boost Company Performance?

Insider Today: Some Amazon Employees Discuss Unionizing Over the Company’s RTO mandate

Bank of America Warns Return-To-Office Laggards With ‘Letters of Education’

9 Trends That Will Shape Work in 2024 and Beyond

Wayfair Cuts Targeted Remote Staff

IBM to Managers – RTO or Leave

This article was originally published by Adrienne Guerrero on LinkedIn.

Categories

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *