How to Bring Employees Back to Workplace

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Apple asked its employees to come back to workplace. In return, Apple got a long letter explaining why Apple should not ask people to come back to workplace at the rate that they had planned for. Thousands of Apple employees signed the letter of protest. This is not just the case for Apple in particular. This is the story of each corporation looking for employees to come back to workplace.

We need to understand the story from both sides. Why do employers want employees to work from the office? At the same time, why are employees hesitating?

The Need to Come Back

According to Wharton’s research, 82% of leaders indicate that their companies were at least equally productive as before. The question arises when everything is working fine for the last 14 months, why do employers suddenly want employees to come back? Here is what employers are worried about.

  1. Employee Fatigue– Many employers are realising that the marginal increase in productivity comes at a huge cost. Employee fatigue has crept in due to work-life imbalance. 54% of employees feel overworked. The meetings have increased 2.5 times in the past one year without a significant increase in revenue. People are making compromises on ergonomics, lifestyle, and schedules, which has started reflecting in quality of work, burnouts, mental health issues, and insurance costs. As per a LinkedIn survey, the job switching intent has doubled this year as compared to the past two years. 41% of employees want to change their job in the next one year.
  1. Collaboration, Innovation, and Culture– While there is an increase in productivity, the virtual workplace has made teams more siloed. New joiners assimilation is poor. Sense of belongingness is getting depleted. These issues have a long-term impact on a company’s culture and capability to innovate. Additionally, few breach of trust cases of dual employment aggravate the anxiety levels for employers. Instead of fixing these issues as per the virtual normal, going back to the office is an easier option.

What’s Holding Employees Back

The first law of Newton is holding employees back. This inertia is fueled by various reasons including

  1. Safety- Around one-third of the population is worried about safety. They doubt whether double vaccination is enough to keep them safe. They are worried about workplace hygiene, food hygiene and safety during the commute.
  2. Ecosystem- When work from home started, no one realised it was going to become work from home town for many. Leaving the hometown and coming back to workplace is complete resettlement.

Then there are people with small kids and the elderly at home. They have built their ecosystems during covid. It is difficult for them to recast their ecosystems.

Such people make one-quarter of the population.

  1. Commute- Commuting is one of the biggest factors that is creating inertia. Firstly, commuting consumes time. Secondly, it is a cost. Thirdly, it is not completely safe. This hits the first two basic needs in Maslow Hierarchy.
  2. Cost- This is a subtle component. During the pandemic, employees weren’t travelling and spending money on food, etc. After they come back to the office, the same expense will start pinching their pocket. People have settled into the reality of not necessarily having to spend that money on commuting and food.
  3. Comfort- Until now, home and office were two different entities. Life and work were to be balanced. The pandemic made people realise that life and work can function at the same time. The flexibility of time, casual dressing, having lunch at home, doing chores at home, seeing their kids grow up in front of them, seems like it’s too much to give up.

How to Balance

  1. Do You Need Everyone Back?- There is no need to board the bandwagon of bringing back everyone just because everyone else is doing it. Review your business requirements and define which roles you need back at office. Remember, you are still saving on real estate if people continue to work remotely.
  2. Create a Positive Work Environment- Forcing people to come back might not work. The Work Trend Index survey says that 67% of people want to come back to the office, but they need flexibility. Asking people, understanding their issues, and acting humanely will work better. You will have enough champions who will be happy to work from the office. Once that gains momentum, FOMO (Fear of missing out) will bring back the rest of the workforce.
  3. Remote Working Policy- It is a good idea to publish things in black and white, as to what is going to be a remote working policy going forward. You may define different salary levels for office working and remote working for the same job. This will ensure fairness and clarity.

A little bit of financial incentive to reasonably offset the comfort of the house can also do the magic for a smooth transition.

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