10 Tips to Facilitate a Smooth Return to the Office
Wondering how to bring your employees back to in-person work? Read on for tips on how to make the work from home to office change as smooth as possible.
Returning back to the office can bring excitement to a workforce looking back to working side-by-side. But it can also pose some challenges to businesses and employees alike.
Namely, the type of working environment office workers are used to has changed—and along with it, so have the needs and expectations of a modern office. To create a plan that ensures employee productivity and happiness, businesses must create unique, effective, and flexible plans for returning to the office.1
How can you ease the transition back to the office for your executives, managers, and staff? In this guide, we’ll explore ten tips for a successful company return to office work that won’t break the bank, put a dent in your productivity, or decrease team morale.
#1 Set the Right Pace
If you’re on the executive or management team at your company, a full-scale return to the office space might seem long overdue. But, pack your patience—change often doesn’t happen overnight.
Before you send out a mass email requiring that everyone shows up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed next Monday morning, consider how your employees’ lives have changed in the face of remote work or hybrid arrangements:
- Child care – With increased time at home, working parents might have stopped sending their infants and toddlers to expensive daycares or called off their in-home nannies. Remote work has been a game-changer for working parents, and these team members might need additional time to adjust to in-person work.2
- Commuting – Metro area businesses should consider how commuting options have changed between 2020 and 2022. Naturally, increases in at-home working have reduced demand for public transit—bus lines and train routes near you may have changed drastically in just two years, and employees might have more difficulty commuting than they used to.3
- Scheduling – When executives signed onto temporary remote work two years ago, some brands offered flex time—working whenever (and wherever) employees needed to as long as they met their contractual working hours requirements.4 If you’re one of these brands, expect your now-nocturnal employees to take some time to adjust.
These are just three reasons why your employees might need time to reacquaint themselves with the typical 9–5, in-person schedule. As you plan your return to the office, give your staff the time they need to make the necessary arrangements.
#2 Consider Hybrid Working
Even if your ideal work structure is 100% in-person, your employees might not agree. In fact, studies have shown that more executives want to return to brick-and-mortar work than employees, creating what researchers call the “executive-employee disconnect.”5
For many brands, hybrid working models could bridge the gap. Consider a combination of remote and in-person working that accommodates both your executive team and the office workers who keep your company running.
This might look like:
- Dedicated in-office days, weeks, or hours
- A mixed-role team where some staff work 100% in office and others 100% at home
- Incorporating flex time (if it works for your industry)
You could also offer an option for limited in-office time, where employees only come in for:
- Critical meetings
- Team-building events
- Professional development
- Project check-ins with stakeholders, clients, and executives
#3 Refine Your Office Layout
Before you require employees to return—or incorporate hybrid policies—consider whether or not your current office layout supports your work model of choice.
Pay special attention to the following areas and features of your workspace:
- The reception area – Between 2020 and 2022, perhaps your visitor policy or drop-in frequency changed. Do you need a large, dedicated lobby or reception space anymore? Consider incorporating self check-ins for visitors, self-service kiosks, or adjusted visitor hours, and think about how your lobby space could be repurposed for improved productivity.
- Physical workspaces – If you’re going hybrid, personalized desks, work pods, or offices might not make sense anymore. Instead, consider creating flex seating that can accommodate anyone who drops into the office to work. In addition, if you’re allowing people to work 100% from home, you simply might not need as large a workspace as you did before.
- IT and server areas – Along with increased remote and hybrid work, your technology needs have likely changed in the last two years. If you’re welcoming everyone back into the office full-time, but your IT staff or networking equipment have largely commandeered the office, you might need to change your layout to accommodate new or additional teams, departments, and equipment.
#4 Provide Incentives
If your team is hesitant to return, but you’re convinced that working in the office full-time is the way forward for your brand, you’ll need to secure employee buy-in.
Consider offering the following incentives to encourage people to return to the office:
- Stipends or per-diem for commuting or childcare costs
- Increased PTO
- Extended breaks
- Relaxed dress codes
- Free refreshments or weekly paid lunches
Various studies show that providing positive incentives for behavior changes facilitates those changes more effectively than punishing non-compliance.6 If you expect resistance or low buy-in once you implement your return-to-office plan, consider rewarding people who show up in person.
#5 Schedule Team-Building Experiences
Working from home took hold in early 2020—but your team has likely changed significantly in the last two years, perhaps as a result of:
- Employee departures
- Title or responsibility changes
- New hires
- Mergers and acquisitions or new company ownership
All of the above are normal for any business, but the last two years have been unprecedented. As your company has changed, perhaps your corporate employees have been keeping these changes at arm’s length as a result of remote work.
When your team starts trickling in, they’ll meet new faces, respond to lost teammates, and adjust to role and organizational shifts that haven’t played out in the brick-and-mortar office yet. To ease this transition, consider scheduling a good old-fashioned team-building experience to improve workplace culture.
Give your staff a chance to meet new people, acquaint themselves with the company structure, and find a productive path forward amid substantial change.
#6 Set Up Morale-Boosting Events
Team-building and morale-boosting are two different things—teaching your team to work in harmony and giving them a chance to decompress are both vital for successful, productive brands.
While you might be tempted to invest more heavily in organized team-building exercises, don’t forget to give your employees a chance to bond off the clock. As you proceed with your return to office plan, consider organizing and sponsoring events like:
- Friday afternoon happy hours
- Family days, inviting staff and their loved ones to:
- Chow down at a barbecue
- Lounge on the beach
- Compete in a field day
- Field trips or group activities, like:
- Walking tours of your city
- Pub crawls
- Wine tastings
- Line dancing lessons
Events like these can help your staff see each other in a new light—and increase their investment in the company family.
#7 Create and Test New Communication SOPs
While you were working from home, you likely relied heavily upon email, messaging (like Slack), texting, and phone calls. But working in the office again will reintroduce other modes of communication, like:
- In-person meetings
- Physically posted memos or bulletins
- Ducking your head into your teammate’s office to ask verbal questions
Newcomers might not yet have a clear picture of the communications procedure you had before you started working virtually. As employees return to their desks, create and tweak new communication SOPs to keep information from falling through the cracks.
#8 Support Employee Autonomy
In the first tip, we talked about how employees’ lives have likely changed in the face of fully-remote work. A lot can change in two years—employees have likely entered new relationships, moved, had children, or changed their habits as a result of decreased in-office work.
Creating flexible options, like a flexible office space, to accommodate these changes is essential to helping you retain talent. So, even if your ideal work scenario is 100% in-office, you should do your best to empower your staff to make the choices that are best for their careers, families, and personal development.
For small businesses, this might look like case-by-case considerations for hybrid work. Large corporations might require HR policies or SOP changes. To support your workforce, try to be flexible and keep an open mind as you return to the brick-and-mortar space.
#9 Build a Functional Office
We discussed layout in Tip #3, but functional offices require so much more than high-quality layouts and space usage. As you create your return to office plan, consider how the following changes to your office space could improve your productivity, employee satisfaction, and workplace culture:
- New technologies – Bigger monitors, better A/V tools, and faster internet speeds
- Flexible seating – Adjustable-height chairs and desks, focus pods, and breakout spaces
- New furniture – Larger (or smaller) conference tables, modernized lobby seating, and modular pieces that accommodate fast and easy group work
In the face of changing work practices, you may even consider a new office redesign—a fresh start for your staff and stakeholders where big ideas and collaboration thrive.
#10 Seek and Use Staff Feedback
The tips above can help you create a return to office policy that works well for your executives and employees alike—but you can always elevate the practices above by incorporating staff feedback.
As you welcome staff back to the office, ask your workers:
- What their ideal return to office pace looks like
- How they feel about hybrid working
- Whether or not the current office layout supports their productivity
- What incentives could motivate them to return to the office
- Which team skills they want to develop
- Whether or not they want to get to know their team outside of the office
- How their personal communication preferences have changed
- Whether their life changes have impacted their career and work
- If they’re interested in new technologies and workplace tools
This valuable feedback can help you create a plan that actually works—a method that welcomes staff back to the office, boosts morale, stewards productivity, and accommodates two years’ worth of changes.
Create a Welcoming Space with Juniper Office
Are companies going back to the office going to generate excitement among team members looking forward to the return of in-person work? Undoubtedly so. But for some, the transition may create some questions about how the office will meet their new expectations and needs. The tips above can help you craft a return to office master plan that facilitates company success and takes into consideration the future of work trends.
Creating warm, welcoming, and highly functional office environments is a critical component of returning to those environments—and it’s at the heart of everything we do at Juniper Office.
Our fast, easy, and turnkey office design and product solutions could be the lynchpin of your in-person work plan, and our experienced team is prepared to do whatever it takes to help you reach your productivity, morale, and aesthetic goals.
Let’s build the workplace of the future together.
- The Washington Post. Bosses Want Workers Back By Labor Day. They’re Not Going in Without a Fight. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2022/08/31/remote-work-return-to-office-flexible-work/
- Forbes. The Workforce of Tomorrow Requires A Child Care System Fit for the Future. https://www.forbes.com/sites/isabellehau-1/2022/08/02/the-workforce-of-tomorrow-requires-a-child-care-system-fit-for-the-future/?sh=6970a4d950cd
- The Journal of Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice. The Impact of Working From Home on Modal Commuting Choice Response During COVID-19: Implications for Two Metropolitan Areas in Australia. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8608599/
- University of California at Davis. Flextime. https://hr.ucdavis.edu/departments/worklife-wellness/flexiblework/flextime
- CNBC. Making Sense of Why Executives Are Eager to Get Employees Back in the Office. https://www.cnbc.com/2022/03/08/return-to-office-why-executives-are-eager-for-workers-to-come-back.html
- Harvard Business Review. What Motivates Employees More: Rewards or Punishments?. https://hbr.org/2017/09/what-motivates-employees-more-rewards-or-punishments