Struggling to bring employees back to the office?

The 'work-from-home' argument is dividing employees – here's how businesses can entice talent back

Struggling to bring employees back to the office?

Research from Future X Collective found that one in two Australians (54%) don’t intend to return to the office full-time, with almost a quarter (24%) reporting that they’d actively seek out another job if their employer insisted on an in-office return.

“Working from home offers a more flexible schedule in which employees can complete simple non-work-related tasks, such as running a load of laundry or taking their dog for a walk, whilst also completing their regular work,” says Angela Ferguson, co-founder of workplace consultancy Future X Collective. “This, in combination with not having to commute, has saved Australian employees valuable time and money. However, this high level of flexibility can easily blur the line between home and work, resulting in extended working times and reduced social engagement.”

When does the workday begin and end?

A 2021 report from the Australian Institute showed that work-from-home setups have led to a culture of overwork and unpaid overtime, with many employees working late into the evening. Other negative outcomes associated with remote work include limitations to team connectivity, creativity, and career opportunities due to decreased social interactions.

“Organisations need to create workplaces that are part of an overall attraction/retention strategy and focus on filling the gaps that working-from-home environments cannot fulfil,” Ferguson said. “When in the office, employees should be encouraged to participate in social and wellness activities such as team outings, celebrations for good work performance, work anniversaries and so on. A positive workplace culture increases employee engagement, which in turn leads to improved performance and motivation whilst also encouraging staff retention.”

Is hybrid working the future?

Currently, two in five (43%) Australians report working in a hybrid model, while 15% said they value their autonomy and flexibility too much to consider working two or three days in the office again. Several respondents claimed to be more productive at home, whilst others stated the cost of travel was their biggest deterrent to returning to the office.

“Returning to the office was not, in fact, as exciting as I imagined,” said Amanda King, FLOQ marketing and SEO consultant. “Most of the time, the office is still relatively dead. I work with a lot of engineers and designers who need deep time and they weren't having coming back into the office.

“I do still prefer hybrid working, seeing people face-to-face breaks up your day and builds trust and relationships. Flexibility is important enough that I quit my job to become a full-time consultant, so I'm in an office during the week when I'm at my client's offices and yes, I think five days a week in the office is dead.”

It works both ways

Delving further into the research, employees stated that the main drawcard to come back into the office (even in a hybrid capacity) was an increase in their salary (40% selected this as their top choice), followed by knowing their colleagues would be there (15%) and being reimbursed for their travel and lunch costs (14%).

“I enjoy the benefits of hybrid working when I have been unwell and it is better to work from home; however, in terms of managing my team in a dynamic environment, I feel that working in the office is beneficial,” said strategic advisor Belinda Coniglio. “It’s also important to building relationships in a newly formed team and supporting the team to learn their job.

“I think an organisation that’s open to exploring different modes of working is more desirable than one that commands 9-5, five days in the office. It’s about understanding the needs of your team and what the deliverables are and like anything, working out what works to get the best result.”

The HR solution?

For organisations struggling with the balance, there are some potential, easy-to-implement, solutions on the market.

  1. Create ‘together’ days

“Workplace culture is largely reliant on people to create an environment which is inspiring and productive for their fellow colleagues,” Ferguson said. “Having one to two mandatory days on which staff must be in the office, helps provide consistency, builds a sense of togetherness, and drives social connection and collaboration.”

  1. Consider what your workplace offers

To entice employees into a permanent hybrid rhythm, businesses must consider, “How can we create a compelling experience for our people?” Not just in terms of the environment, but also look at culture and technology and how these three things come together.

“It’s not until people physically return to the office in a more consistent nature to see their colleagues face-to-face, that they realise what they have been missing while working from home,” Ferguson said.   

  1. Ask your team

The best way to support your team to design their own experience of hybrid working is to ask them. Most staff are exhausted by surveys, so creating engaging and interactive online workshops can help to capture sentiment and hopes for the future in real time. People in the workshop can see the outcomes as the workshop progresses, providing instant results and visual feedback.

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