There are a lot of benefits to remote work, so if you plan to ask employees back to the workplace, they might need a bit of encouragement.
How many people have you spoken to who’ve said they’re just not interested in going back to the workplace?
It’s not an uncommon sentiment. Many people have got into a great groove with their work from home set up and discovered how much easier it is to balance other aspects of their life with work. In fact, a survey by recruitment platform LiveCareer found that nearly 30 per cent of employees would rather quit their jobs then go back to the physical workplace.
While you could order employees back to the workplace (see HRM’s guide on that here), the carrot is usually better than the stick. So how can employers sweeten the deal and entice employees back to the physical workplace? HRM has rounded up eight possible ideas.
1. Ask what employees want
Emily Jaksch, founder and director of HR Gurus, says if you want to encourage employees to come back to the office, you should make sure they’re included in the transition from remote work.
“What we’ve done with many of our clients is ‘stop, start, continue’ surveys. We’ve used these to find out what the company was doing well, what employees want to see more of and what they’d like to stop altogether. But most importantly, it showed employees that their voices were heard.
“So rather than just announcing, ‘We’re back in the office from this date’, you should be collaborative and building good will among our employees.”
2. Provide childcare support (for humans and four-legged friends)
One of the biggest benefits to working from home is the ability to spend more time with loved ones.
For employees with children, working from home was essential when childcare centres closed during the height of the pandemic. Even as they’re reopened, a lack of childcare support, or covering the costs associated, is still a big issue for working parents.
If employers want to entice these employees back to the workplace, providing adequate childcare support would likely be a big help. Gartner predicts that by 2023, organisations will increase employee retention by over 20 per cent by repurposing unused office space as onsite childcare facilities.
Employers who don’t have the space for an onsite creche may want to consider alternatives such as a monthly child care stipend to ease the increased financial burden working parents face.
Humans aside, pets have also become accustomed to their owners being around more often and some employees may be concerned about leaving their fur-children alone after so much time together. Employers may want to consider becoming a dog-friendly office, allowing employees to bring in their pups on certain days (we do this in our office and can attest this will improve your coworkers day too).
3. Travel allowances
Another big drawcard for remote work is the lack of commute. Not only is this a time saver for many employees, it’s also a money saver. Data from 2016 suggest Australian spend over $221 on transport expenses.
To lure employees back, some organisations, such as Facebook, are considering paying employees to come into the office through a travel stipend.
The Society for Human Resource Management suggests employers consider a travel allowance that employees can use on ride-sharing services or parking costs if they feel unsafe on public transport. They also suggest organisations consider incentives for greener forms of commuting like cycling to work.
4. Reconsider the work environment
Working from home injury claims have sored, in part due to people working at an ergonomically poor workstation.
Providing employees with standing desks and ergonomic chairs could entice them back to work.
Jaksch suggests employers take a hard look at the general aesthetics of their workplace before asking employees to come back.
“I think people are going to really value their environment and being able to get out of the house and go somewhere nice. But if your office is old, tired,dark and not a pleasant place to be, people are going to want to stay at home.”
“People want certainty. If you don’t give them certainty, then they get stressed and anxious.” – Emily Jaksch, founder and director of HR Gurus
5. More breaks
Another benefit of remote work is the ability to take a quick break when you’re not being watched. In the workplace, employees might feel they need to be chained to their desks to prove they’re working.
Employers can bring this into the workplace by communicating the approval of regular short breaks and by leading by example.
6. Be flexible
If it’s not the commute holding employees back it might be the flexibility around start and finish times. Some employees have appreciated being able to pop out for longer lunch or a quick exercise session and make up the time before or after traditional work hours – and they’re unlikely to want to give that up.
One suggestion would be for employers to consider ‘time-shifting’. Rather than setting arbitrary guidelines such as, ‘employees must work in the office on these specific days’, instead ask employees to come into the office during hours that suit them. Obviously this option isn’t going to fit all organisations but if it’s doable in your workplace it’s probably worth a consolidation.
For example, an employee might work in the office between 10am and 2pm so they can still complete the school run and work their remaining hours from home.
“I’ve done a lot of research into the millennial workforce and the number one thing they’re looking for is better work/life balance and flexibility,” says Jaksch.
“You’re going to have trouble retaining them if you’re not willing to be flexible.”
8. Clearly communicate your COVID-safe plan
Employers should remember that while normalcy has returned to most parts of our lives there are still many people for whom the thought of getting COVID is a very real concern.
“There are still plenty of people who are terrified of coming back out into the world, so if you’re going to ask them to come back you need to demonstrate that it’s safe.”
Some states and territories still have strict guidelines around what workplaces need to do before employees can come back to the office. For example, in Victoria employers need to create a COVID-safe plan.
“You need to give people really clear communication around what your plan of attack is going to be. People want certainty. If you don’t give them certainty, then they get stressed and anxious.”
Finally, don’t push it
A lot of employees just don’t want to come back to the workplace full time. A survey by recruitment agency Hays found that over 60 per cent of employees felt a hybrid system was the most productive way of working.
Any employer looking to insist employees come back should tread very carefully, says Jaksch.
“They need to have very good business reasons or a business case as to why they need everybody to come back to the workplace. Firstly, because flexible working is a protected workplace right.
“But also, all the research suggests it makes business sense to give employees flexibility. Why would you throw that away?”
The impacts of COVID-19 will linger with us for sometime into the future. Keep on top of your organisation’s obligations by visiting AHRI’s COVID-19 HR Resource Hub.