Remote work has become so normalised that employees now hold the balance of power in the return to work debate, says an HR expert.
Maureen Kyne from Maureen Kyne & Assoc says employers will have to offer benefits and incentives to bring employees back to the office, rather than just ordering them to return.
She says the way people work has fundamentally changed and the workplace needs to reflect this.
Ms Kyne says the remote work experience has gone on for so long that employees have created self-sufficient remote islands – and while it’s now time for them to re-join the mainland, that process has to take place by degrees.
“The last two years has stripped away the team ethos for many groups of employees, and companies have been left with individuals working in isolation, with no collaboration, innovation or cohesive productivity.”
“Workers are not investing in themselves if they remain working from home; they are missing out on career growth and development opportunities that have a flow-on effect to other parts of their lives.”
While remote working has its limitations, Ms Kyne says most employees have become comfortable with it and are reluctant to return to the office. As a result, companies should not order workers back to the office unless they have updated processes to reflect that change.
“Companies must be in a position to offer their staff a new workforce experience; hybrid arrangements, flexibility and renewed career development and education.”
“From CEOs down to employees, working from home has provided us with time to reflect on careers and personal life but if companies want to retain their workforce, and reduce the risk of losing their skilled staff, they must create genuine and real reasons to return to the office.”
How to build the right case to convince your staff to return to the office:
- Offer greater flexibility: Consider offering a nine day fortnight or a reduced 35 hour week on a 38 hour salary giving more flexibility to when and where people work. Many employees have enjoyed having more family time and it’s a key reason people are reluctant to return to the office full time. For companies that have revised their work to reflect the new post COVID environment, a structured hybrid model may also be a solution in luring teams back to work.
- Build a new workforce: Understanding your company’s DNA will guide your business and help you to identify the skills and roles needed in the physical office. By assessing your current workforce and the integrations between people and their individual roles, will help identify the gaps in skills, amplify abilities and justify a return to face-to-face working.
- Focus on career development: After a long absence from the office, employees need to know their company is invested in them. This can be achieved by the promise of further education, paying for a degree or industry courses and mapping out a career path that may go beyond their current position in the company. Offering to facilitate their career goals will also instil greater loyalty. Let them know it’s a lot easier to see opportunities around them in an office than when working remotely.
- Create mentorships within the business: Mentoring often happens organically in an office environment. Consider creating a dedicated mentor system in the company. Young people in particular, need exposure to business communications and access to networking and professional skills. Many skills aren’t taught at tertiary level and can’t be acquired in a remote setting. Career advancement has a greater chance when you can build a network and collaborate with others in person.
- Wellbeing: Human beings are by nature social creatures. It’s why so many people have said they suffered loneliness, anxiety or depression WFH. The return to the office allows for socialisation and contact with others. Teamwork becomes more vibrant, engaging and collaborative and there is a shared purpose. A good wellness perk to entice workers back to the office may include gift cards to help fund fitness memberships or purchase items that support a wellbeing hobby. Wellness packages can improve morale, boost productivity and loyalty and reduce employee days off.
Ms Kyne says HR has a significant role to play in assisting with employees return to the office and it may require contract negotiations.
“It’s like the coronavirus created this divorce from the workplace and now we are in mediation to create a reconnection to the workplace.”
“Workers have tasted workplace freedoms over the last two years and from CEO’s down to employees, they are all juggling a new reality and changing expectations and the old norms around 9 to 5 office life are redundant. We now have a bigger role to play in creating a workforce experience.”