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How to Design a Return to Work Policy Without the Backlash


Imagine the excitement in the air. Your company weathered the storm and adapted to remote work with only minor hiccups. But productivity has slipped and the team isn't quite as close-knit as it once was.


So now it's finally time to welcome your team back to the office. The emails go out, the policies are duly promulgated, and then... crickets. Your once-buzzing office stays eerily silent.


Why? Because management's return to work policy lacked any flair for the human factor. Honestly, can you blame employees if they don't embrace dress clothes and a dreary commute over sweatpants and afternoons with their kids?


What's more, COVID and a drum-tight job market have changed the power dynamic between boss and employee. Mandates are out, incentives are in.


The failed return to office push is a cautionary tale. When bungled, it can damage your credibility with employees, torpedo morale and thwart your effort to recruit new employees.

But there is a way to balance corporate productivity and respect for employees' newfound love of remote work.


The shift to a hybrid workforce isn't just a trend; it's a complex transition that requires empathy, understanding, and creativity. Read on to discover the return to work strategies, perks and messaging that will buoy profits and inspire your team.



The Pros and Cons of a Hybrid Workplace: Navigating the New Normal


When shaping your return to office policy, you first need to consider the benefits and challenges of a hybrid workforce.


Pros:

  • Flexibility: Employees can choose where they work, catering to their preferences and needs.

  • Wider Talent Pool: You can hire from anywhere, expanding opportunities to find the best fit.

  • Cost Savings: Reduced office space can lead to significant savings.

Cons:

  • Communication Challenges: Managing in-office and remote employees may lead to misunderstandings.

  • Potential Productivity Issues: Without proper management, remote work can impair productivity.

  • Cultural Disconnect: Maintaining a strong company culture with a dispersed team can be challenging.


Back to Office Trends: Who's In and Who's Out?


When it comes to a return to work policy, there's no one-size-fits-all. Every company needs to find an approach that works for their team, culture and business goals.


But if you're looking for inspiration, look no further than Fortune 500 companies, whose return to work policy rollouts run the gamut from sparkling success to embarrassing fumble.


Let's look at examples across the board — all-remote, mandated in-office, and hybrid models — and consider what approach might be right for your business.



All-Remote: AirBnB Leads the Way


Big names like AirBnB have announced that employees can live and work “anywhere” if they so choose.


In a beautifully-worded letter to staff in April 2022, CEO Brian Chesky set the bar high for fellow CEOs looking to attract and retain top talent:


We started this process by asking a simple question—where is the world going? The answer is obvious—the world is becoming more flexible about where people can work…
We then asked, what are we solving for?
We want to hire and retain the best people in the world (like you). If we limited our talent pool to a commuting radius around our offices, we would be at a significant disadvantage. The best people live everywhere, not concentrated in one area. And by recruiting from a diverse set of communities, we will become a more diverse company.

This bold move resonates with a large number of employees who prefer the autonomy and flexibility of remote work. However, an all-remote model could be easier to implement for tech companies where physical presence is less critical, or companies like AirBnB, whose entire culture revolves around travel and adventure. Smaller startups have also followed this trend, capitalizing on the cost-savings of not maintaining an office space.


Mandated Return to Office: Amazon Takes a Stand


Alternatively, you can go the draconian route and effectively threaten your employees with dismissal if they don't return to the office. In a leaked memo from July 2023, Amazon told employees they would be forced into “voluntary resignation” if they refused to return to the office. A month later, CEO Andy Jassy doubled down in a leaked voice recording:


It's past the time to disagree and commit. And if you can't disagree and commit, I also understand that, but it's probably not going to work out for you at Amazon because we are going back to the office at least three days a week, and it's not right for all of our teammates to be in three days a week and for people to refuse to do so.

Hybrid Workforce: The Middle Ground with Microsoft and Others


Unsurprisingly, the most common approach aims to offer the best of both worlds — flexibility and in-person collaboration. Microsoft has opted for a hybrid workforce model, allowing employees to work from home less than 50% of the time. Interestingly, this seems to be a popular choice for medium-sized businesses who want to offer perks to attract talent but also feel the need for some in-office time to maintain company culture.


Should Company Size Influence Your Return to Work Policy?


Large companies have the resources to offer more flexibility, but they also have complex logistics and a diverse workforce to manage. Small businesses, on the other hand, may lack the resources but have the agility to adapt quickly to new trends. For example, while larger companies may provide extensive telework policy documents and hybrid work tools, a small business might offer a simple yet effective flexible work schedule with fewer formalities.


Understanding Employee Concerns: Bridging the Gap


When planning a return to office, knowing what your team thinks and feels is vital. Are they worried about safety? Do they value the flexibility of telework? Don't guess. Engage with employees in a town hall meeting and send out a survey. When you listen first, you can build a telework policy that resonates and respects their needs.


What Can Happen if You Don't Roll out a Return to Work Policy Effectively: A Cautionary Tale


If you fumble your return to work announcement, you may not find your business splashed across the front page like Amazon did. But a tone-deaf or poorly managed return to office plan could hurt your company in a number of ways:

  • Low Morale: You may project a sense of disregard for employees' needs and feelings.

  • Low Performance: Unhappy employees typically produce less and generate lower-quality outputs.

  • Quiet Quitting: Discontented employees may disengage, essentially "quitting" while still employed.

  • Difficulty Recruiting New Employees: A rigid back-to-the-office policy may deter potential new hires who seek flexibility.


10 Return to Office Perks that Will Wow Your Team


Did you hear about the real estate company that raffled off a Tesla for employees willing to come to work? You may not have the budget for the lavish incentives, daily catered lunch or on-site daycare associated with Silicon Valley splendor. But with a little creativity, you can design perks that inspire your team without breaking your budget.


Consider these no-fuss “welcome back” benefits:

  1. Flexible Schedules: Allow employees to choose their in-office days, promoting work-life balance.

  2. Office Revamp: Make the office a desirable place with new décor or amenities.

  3. Childcare Support: Offer assistance or facilities for parents juggling responsibilities.

  4. Commuter Benefits: Subsidize transportation to ease the burden of commuting.

  5. Wellness Programs: Provide gym memberships or mental health support.

  6. Professional Development Opportunities: Encourage growth with courses or workshops.

  7. Team Building Events: Organize in-person gatherings to foster community.

  8. Work-from-Home Stipends: Support home office setups with grants or reimbursements.

  9. Community Outreach Initiatives: Engage employees in meaningful social projects.

  10. Recognition and Rewards: Regularly acknowledge and celebrate achievements.


CoachCruiting’s Approach to Motivating Teams: Your Partner in the Transition


The journey back to the office doesn't have to be fraught with tension and anxiety. By acknowledging the diverse needs of your team and crafting a thoughtful, empathetic approach, you can create an environment where everyone thrives. It's not about forcing a return. It's about celebrating a new way of working together. Trust CoachCruiting to help you make this transition seamless and exciting!


CoachCruiting understands the nuances of returning to the office in a post-pandemic world. From customized telework policy creation to engaging workshops, we assist employers in navigating the complexities of a hybrid workforce. With our guidance, your team's transition back to the office will be an exciting new chapter, not a dreaded obligation.



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