Getting Back to Work: The Best Return-to-Office Strategies for Your Remote Teams

      By now, public health concerns have largely diminished, giving companies the “all-clear” to return to a regular workday. But many companies are finding that easier said than done. 

      According to at least one recent survey, nearly two out of three (64%) remote workers would prefer to quit rather than return to the office. Managers find themselves tasked with finding effective return-to-work strategies that balance employee concerns with company goals. 

      Here are some strategies to help your team return to the office.

      1. Evaluate Your Reasons for In-Person Work

      Face it: remote work is popular for a reason. In survey after survey, workers report being happier and less stressed when they have the option to work from home. And data from Stanford University even reveals that workers are more productive when working from a home office.

      That doesn’t mean you don’t have legitimate reasons to expect your workers to come in. There may be many explanations for the benefits of in-person work, such as:

      • It’s easier for teams to collaborate
      • New hires can better understand and assimilate to company culture
      • Managers can better direct employees when working in-person

      So while it’s true that some companies are opting for a fully-remote approach, many others are finding ways to bring employees back together. You’ll simply need to state your reasons and decide how you might achieve these goals with your in-person workforce.

      2. Consider a Hybrid Approach

      To be clear, America’s workforce isn’t demanding a full-time remote workday. In fact, Slack, the popular instant-messaging service, discovered that 72% of workers would be in favor of some sort of hybrid model, and only 13% of workers resisted coming into the office altogether.

      Companies can therefore help workers make the transition by allowing some degree of flexibility. Still, this will take some planning. Do you intend to allow workers to telecommute three days a week? Only two? Will you require such time to be scheduled and coordinated with other team members? 

      These considerations aside, offering this degree of flexibility can encourage workers to come back to the regular workspace without throwing off their work-life balance.

      3. Offer Financial Incentives

      Admittedly, it might sound slightly ridiculous to lure your employees back with the promise of money — almost like a strange form of bribery. But offering these sorts of incentives can prevent your employees from clicking on an employment search site the minute they get the call to return to the office.

      How much is enough? The Blackhawk Network, an eCommerce payment platform, surveyed remote workers to discover their preferences. First, nearly two-thirds (62%) of respondents preferred financial incentives to return to the office. Second, the average amount of money required to entice workers back to the office was $11,700. 

      These numbers are not insignificant, but you may discover that it’s worth your investment to get your workforce back together. Otherwise, you risk the cost (and hassle) of hiring new employees to replace those who opted to find other employment.

      4. Offer Non-Financial Incentives

      Money isn’t the only way to get people back together. Don’t underestimate the appeal of perks like a company happy hour or free lunches.

      You could entice employees to return to the office by contracting various food trucks to park nearby every day. Then, you can provide vouchers for your employees to get lunch or an afternoon treat. You could even open a tab at a local bar and start a weekly happy hour. 

      The social activity of sharing meals and drinks together can provide a greater sense of team unification. Once your employees take advantage of such offers, they may come to realize just what they’ve been missing while working from home.

      5. Maintain an Emphasis on Worker Safety

      The recent pandemic impacted more than just the world of business. It took a toll on families, communities, and individuals. Losses have been traumatic, and even workers who have not been directly impacted by the virus may remain under its lingering threat.

      For this reason, you may consider maintaining policies that protect worker safety. If you live in an area where variants continue to wax and wane, you might consider reinstating mask mandates during meetings or other events that demand close proximity. You might also devote an area to serve as a “safe space” for those particularly threatened by the virus.

      6. Strategize Synchronicity

      One of the challenges of a hybrid approach is that it makes it harder for teams to collaborate. It also makes it challenging for new hires to learn the company culture.

      Each department might consider appointing a “designated synchronizer,” someone tasked with ensuring that team members coordinate their time in-office and their time working remotely so that coworkers are better able to work together.

      7. Revisit Employee Contracts

      What if you have an employee who declines to return to the office? Or what if an employee plans to move away from the area but wants to telecommute to retain their job?

      Ideally, you can prevent this with the other strategies above, but you may have to get tough. Review their employment contract. If it contains language that requires them to work from the office or that ties their job to a specific city, you may need to remind your employee of this. 

      Having these requirements in writing can also protect you if you need to move forward with actual termination.

      8. Listen to Your Workers

      Above all, listen to the concerns of your workers. No employer can possibly address every concern, but at the very least, your workers will feel heard and respected.

      This goes not only for the timing of the return but also for the transition process itself. There will undoubtedly be points of friction. 

      If you maintain a hybrid approach, you may need to listen to understand the needs of employees who need to balance the role of employee with the role of parent. Listening to these needs and concerns can help your employees stay engaged and can ease the process of their return.

      Is Remote Work Here to Stay?

      It’s likely that remote work is here to stay, at least in some form. Most workers prefer a hybrid approach, though adopting any form of remote work will take strategy and care to keep teams together and cultivate a healthy workplace culture.

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