With restrictions easing up, vaccination rates increasing and physical workplaces starting to open up again, more companies are making the move back to in-person work. As COVID becomes a part of our everyday lives, return to office (RTO) strategies are becoming the future of workplace environments.
Throughout this blog, we will be detailing some tips and methods on how to best approach RTO, in addition to covering the challenges and drawbacks each option incurs. Furthermore, we will discuss how to choose the best method for your office, how to incentivize employees to come back to the office and talk about how to create an equitable environment during the process!
- The method of RTO you use should vary depending on the needs of your company and employees; what works for one company may not work for another.
- Solicit feedback from your employees and weigh the pros and cons of each option to make the best choice for your specific situation.
- Employees are more likely to return to the office if their friends are as well; try incentivizing them using pre-pandemic company events and traditions.
- In a hybrid RTO, keep a remote-first mindset so that events are equitable for the folks working from home. Hybrid events can also be a great way to get remote workers to want to return to the office.
Methods of RTO 📝
Every company has different employees, managers and workplaces; every company will approach RTO differently and as such, should customize their efforts accordingly. What’s best for one company isn’t likely to be best for another. This shows that each company should choose what’s best for them and their employees.
1. All or nothing
An all or nothing approach means either having no capacity restrictions and everyone comes back to the officenot opening the office at all and being remote-first.
All in-person 🏢
- One company found that food was a good incentive to bring employees into the office, but this incentive wore off quickly. Instead, people teams are noticing employees want to go into the office if they notice their friends are going into the office.
- Determine where your employees stand on their RTO, identify their concerns and do everything you can to address them. This information can be gathered by sending out a survey to see how employees are feeling.
- Note: that rules surrounding your all or nothing may vary based on the office location’s city and local safety guidelines
- Many employees may be accustomed to the benefits and flexibility of remote work, and may resist returning to the workplace.
- Some employees may feel uncomfortable returning to the office based on health reasons. Studies find that 48% of vaccinated American adults are hesitant to return to person-person contact
All remote 🖥
- Communication and connection is key for all remote teams!
- Getting to know your employees on a personal level is a great way to connect with your employees and get a grasp of their concerns as well as what they want from virtual events.
- Provide a bunch of events on different days, weeks and hours to accommodate employees in every country and time zone. This will allow for global employees to get to meet each other and connect, where they wouldn't have been able to if in office.
- Many employees might be suffering and continue to suffer from COVID burnout under an all remote model.
- In global companies, a challenge they face is different time zones when coordinating company-wide events and programs.
2. Soft opening ⭐️
In a soft opening, a quarter of the total office capacity is allowed to return to in-person work, while the rest of the workforce remains remote. Then when it is safe to do so, slowly more employees are allowed to be in office.
- One company found that Mondays and Fridays in-office are usually very slow, whereas traffic generally picks up on Tuesday to Thursday.
- They also found that larger meetings, such as an in-person all-hands, are a great way to drive people into the office.
- By spacing out larger events and getting leadership involved in said events, a company found that this is a better way to bring employees together without the pressure of ensuring they are in the office throughout the week.
- A challenge a company encountered was changing the expectations employees had regarding how they would come into office.
- This also requires employees to build new habits surrounding their vaccine passports and other COVID precautions, as well as desk booking.
- It is also important to manage employee expectations, especially for those that knew the workplace environment pre-pandemic.
3. Flex approach (hybrid) 📌
Using a flex approach means letting employees move between in-person and remote whenever and however they please.
- One company found that opening offices gradually while giving employees complete freedom over when they’re in office created a smooth transition period.
- Once each office reaches their final stage of opening (no limited capacity), each team should establish their rules and expectations for in-person attendance.
- Another company opened their return to office by flying in anyone in the company that wanted to come, and planned a week of connection events, which served as a great incentive for employees to return.
- They also found that having leadership both in office and supporting the return to office was incredibly helpful to incentivize employees.
- Similar to how companies have office managers for in-person offices, a company found it helpful to have a remote office manager for remote employees to be their spokesperson and their voice.
- Companies hosting large RTO weeks might find them logistically draining and unproductive for many employees.
- Implementing a requirement for days in office can make uptake a nightmare with employees complaining of the commute.
Tips on choosing the best method for your team 💭
Now that we have covered the three different ways to approach the RTO, choosing the most fitting method for yourself and your team may be difficult. Take it slow and try to get a deeper understanding of what you believe will be the most beneficial for you and your team in this situation. Here are some tips on how to choose the best RTO method for your team!
- Create a survey for your employees in regard to their comfortability levels for each RTO method. Also have a question where employees can submit their questions or concerns anonymously to be considered. The method with the most comfortable votes could help be your decision factor!
- Create a Pros and Cons List for each RTO method. You could consider the learnings and challenges found through each method.
- If you are still in the process of approaching RTO, don’t worry as long as you are prioritizing the mental and physical health of your employees!
Incentivizing employees to come into the office ✅
If you have some employees who are hesitant with returning to office, no need to worry as it is tough to appeal to everyone. So continue to engage employees that have shown an interest to return to office! But if you are in a situation where you would like to have employees back in office, consider incentivizing employees as this gives them the decision to either join or stay back at home. Here are some incentives that may have employees wanting to return to office!
- Fall back on organic traffic; employees most likely want to return when their friends are also able to return, let this happen naturally.
- Keep adapting to fit employees changing needs and wants; this may include reassuring the team about COVID safety protocols.
- Talk to leadership about actively creating time and space for employees to be more engaged; consider the ability to pick up those regular traditions your teams had pre-pandemic.
Creating an equitable experience for a hybrid RTO 💫
As mentioned in our recent blog Creating Equitable Experiences & Avoiding Exclusion 🌟, it is extremely important to ensure that, no matter what decision your team makes in regard to completely returning back to office, staying home, or working hybrid, they should not be punished or treated differently based on their personal preferences. Here are some ways you can create an equitable experience for a Hybrid RTO:
- Strive to create hybrid events that have similar in-person and virtual components so that any and every employee can attend. Here are some Event Ideas that you can browse through!
- When planning an event, ensure that it can be accessible for those wanting to attend in-person and for those wanting to attend from home. This can be done by providing an in-person location and a virtual live link
- To make sure everyone is heard and included in hybrid events, assign someone to direct employees that have attended in-person, as well as someone in charge of monitoring any comments made through the live online chat. This will keep both in-person and online employees up to date with the event activities.
There’s no right or wrong answers when it comes to approaching the different methods RTO’s. Remember, at the end of the day we want everyone to be comfortable in the workplace! By keeping these different learnings, challenges and tips in mind, whatever decision you and your team make will ensure a smooth and effective workplace.