Jim Courtwood

Jim Courtwood
Author of the Time & Attendance Consultant's Guide Series

I posted earlier this year about employees' reluctance to return to the office.  I thought this was restricted to the public service but after talking to a few clients recently, I realised just how big an issue this is for many companies. For many, it was the owners' or managers' feeling of disconnect from the employees' activities. 
Author, Tom Peter's strategy of  "Management by Walking Around" has a lot going for it and it is at the core of effective management , but it is impractical when your workers are remote.
During a conversation with one business owner, she expressed her concern about the significant increase in the duration of client training sessions when her staff conducted them from home. In her view, these sessions had become unproductive, a situation that would have been promptly addressed in a traditional workplace setting. 
While most employers believed that their staff were genuine in their work effort, they shared the view that there was an inevitable lack of direction from management and colleagues and that performance was impacted negatively by this.
I offered the analogy of a 100-meter employee race with no lane markers. All the staff end up 100 meters away but potentially in different directions with no one running beside them to gauge how fast to run!  This resonated with most of them. 
Many years ago, in a different employment landscape, employees had no choice in the matter. They would be back in the office when it suited the employer. However, this is a different time, so perhaps a different approach is required. Here are some ideas that came out of the conversations.
Bridging the Gap: Encouraging Employees to Return to the Office Post-COVID 
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly reshaped how we work, with many employees transitioning to remote work and finding it quite agreeable. Now, as we move towards a post-pandemic world, a new challenge emerges: getting employees back into the office. 
This shift has caused a notable disconnect between employees and managers, with many managers hesitant to push their teams back into the office environment. So, how do we bridge this gap and create a smooth transition back to office life? 
Understanding Employee Reluctance
Firstly, it's crucial to understand why employees are reluctant to return. For many, remote work has offered a better work-life balance, reduced commute times, and increased productivity. The flexibility of working from home has become a significant perk that many are not eager to give up. Moreover, health concerns still linger, making some employees wary of returning to a communal workspace. 
Key Concerns
Work-Life Balance: Remote work has allowed employees to better manage their personal and professional lives. 
Health and Safety: The threat of COVID-19 is still present, and many are concerned about the potential health risks. 
Commute: The daily commute is a significant cost ( both in time and monetary terms) and energy drain that employees have not missed. 
Productivity: Many have found that they are more productive working from home without the typical office distractions. 
The Disconnect Between Employees and Managers 
The reluctance to return to the office has led to a noticeable disconnect between employees and managers. Managers are aware of the benefits of in-person collaboration, such as spontaneous brainstorming sessions and easier communication. However, they also recognize the need to respect employees' newfound preferences and concerns. This balancing act can be tricky, leading to hesitation in enforcing a strict return-to-office policy. 
Strategies to Encourage a Return to the Office
Open Communication: 
Foster a culture of open communication where employees feel heard and their concerns are addressed. Regular surveys and feedback sessions can be invaluable in understanding employee sentiments and making informed decisions. 
Flexible Work Arrangements: 
Offer flexible work arrangements, such as hybrid models that combine remote and in-office work. This can help ease the transition and accommodate employees' needs for flexibility. 
Enhanced Health and Safety Measures: 
Ensure the office environment is safe by implementing stringent health protocols, such as regular sanitization, social distancing measures, and providing PPE. Clearly communicate these measures to reassure employees.
Improving the Office Environment: 
Create a more inviting office space by incorporating comfortable furniture, quiet areas for focused work, and collaborative zones. An aesthetically pleasing and functional office can make the idea of returning more appealing. 
Incentives and Perks:
Introduce incentives such as subsidized commuting costs, free meals, or wellness programs to make the transition back to the office more attractive.
Highlighting the Benefits of In-Person Work: 
Emphasize the benefits of in-person work, such as easier collaboration, quicker problem-solving, and the social aspects of office life. Use real-life examples and success stories to illustrate these points. 
Encouraging employees to return to the office post-COVID is a multifaceted challenge that requires empathy, flexibility, and strategic planning. By understanding employees' concerns, offering flexible solutions, and creating a safe and welcoming office environment, managers can bridge the gap and foster a harmonious transition. Open communication and thoughtful incentives can further ease this shift, ensuring that both employees and managers are aligned and motivated for a successful return to office life.
Jim Courtwood


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