Encouraging a return to the office with a suitable workspace

'Have a workplace that does encourage people to be at the office'

Encouraging a return to the office with a suitable workspace

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some large companies relinquished a lot of their office space as employees worked from home. But as employers are calling on workers to return to the office, it can present some challenges in regards to space, according to one expert.

“Now they want to have their employees come back to work but they no longer hold these big commercial holdings,” Brett McAllen, CEO of @Workspaces, told HRD Australia. “So on one hand, they want them back to work, on the other hand, they haven't actually provided the space for that to happen. And that's where we're filling the gap in the market.”

He described how one company needed more space after initially expecting fewer people to return to the office.

“Eight months ago, they leased a space for 25 people because they thought, well, that's how many people they’re going to get back in [the office]. And now we've just upgraded them to another 25 because those other people came back, they love the space.”

A staged return

Nearly nine in 10 Australian businesses have implemented mandatory return to office policies, according to a survey by Robert Half. A majority of them require staff to be in the office at least four days a week.

In addition, a report from law firm Herbert Smith Freehills found that Australian employers are using “both soft and hard tactics” to get employees to return to workplaces.

“Some employers are still doing soft encouragement – such as team lunches on Wednesdays, team drinks, or extracurricular activities on certain days,” Natalie Gaspar, a partner with Herbert Smith Freehills, said in the report. "Some are using more of a direct approach – you must be in the office on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, for example."

But only a “handful” are mandating a full return to the office, she added.

In terms of space, McAllen said the issue for employers will be around staging the return of employees to the office.

“I think that's a challenge for the big employers, it’s thinking ‘How can I manage the days that people are in the office versus the days they want to work from home?’” he said.

“A lot of times now, we're seeing employment contracts where the employee is saying ‘I want two out of the five days at home’. And [employers] need to be very careful and perhaps use that to manage the return and have like we did in COVID, A and B teams or blue and red teams that this team's here on three days…and then they're gone. And then we have a crossover period here.”  

Encouraging a return to the office

McAllen advised HR teams to be conscious of talent acquisition and retention, and have a workplace that encourages people to be at the office.

“Have a workplace that does encourage people to be at the office even for more than that three days,” he said.

“And set up the workplace whether it be collaborative workspaces, whether it be private phone booths where people can just go and have that private conversation, whether it be a quiet room. I think [employers] need to move away from a standard, ‘I've got a 1000 square metre floor space and I'm just going to put it all full of workstations, there's not going to be a breakout room, there's not going to be a quiet room, there's not going to be a kitchen and coffee facilities’.”

McAllen added that the workspace needs to be inviting but also suitable for private conversations.

“We definitely find there is a much, much more demand for a space that we set up with less of that open plan, and more offices, be that even one or two people offices,” he said.

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