Returning to the office? Your people don't seem too keen

One quarter of employees would quit if their employers forced them back to the office

Returning to the office? Your people don't seem too keen

For many, it was hailed as the great saviour from home-based isolation and a chance to return to working with colleagues and reconnecting with the world. However, returning to the office has not turned out to be the hero that many executives thought it would be.

In fact, recent research from Future X Collective found that one in two Australians (54%) never intend to return to the office full-time, with almost a quarter (24%) reporting that they would actively seek out another job if their company forced them back into the office full-time.

“Working from home offers a more flexible schedule where 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,” said Angela Ferguson, co-founder of workplace consultancy, Future X Collective. “This, in combination with not having to commute to and from the office, has saved Australians 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 settings have increasingly pushed work into the personal hours of employees, as many work late into the evening. Other negative outcomes associated with working from home are the limitations to team effectiveness, creativity, and career opportunities due to decreased social interactions with colleagues.

“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.”

The Future X Collective-commissioned research interviewed 1,000 Australian workers.

Hybrid working is the future

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

“Returning to the office was not, in fact, as exciting as I imagined,” Amanda King, FLOQ marketing and SEO consultant, said. “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 drawcards 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,” Belinda Coniglio, strategic advisor, said. “It is also important to building relationships in a newly formed team and supporting the team to learn their job.

“I think an organisation that is open to exploring different modes of working is more desirable than one that commands 9-5 / 5 days in the office. It is 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 who are struggling with the balance, there are some potential solutions to try and get the balance right.

  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 1-2 mandatory days where 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 often 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.

Recent articles & video

'Good natured': Bunnings responds to criticism about how it handled a worker's chronic tardiness

Orchestrated dismissal? Worker claims 'conflict' with employer before redundancy

WorkSafe's role in Whakaari eruption in spotlight as operators seek reduced culpability

Nearly 6,000 Black employees at Tesla allowed to collectively sue for discrimination, harassment

Most Read Articles

New Zealand to hike median wage rate to $31.61 an hour

Manager's email reveals she intended to resign amid constructive dismissal claim

'Bullied' manager wins over $130k against former employer