3 tips for a successful return to work strategy

By Bob McIntyre
Posted6/19/2022 1:00 AM

Many business leaders believe an in-person work environment is crucial to maintain corporate culture, claiming it improves employee morale, fosters innovation and increases engagement. While each industry and individual business has its own business needs and nuances surrounding the return to in-person work, the biggest consideration for any organization should be its people.

The workplace has changed with remote and hybrid work models now commonplace. A recent Pew Research study revealed that 60% of employees currently working from home expect to continue to do so, if given the choice. With that in mind, combined with the current labor shortage, a jobseeker's market, the race for talent and the increased cost of living, how organizations implement their return-to-the-workplace strategy is critical to attract candidates and enhance the employee experience.


To encourage employees to return to the office in some capacity, without the risk of losing them, leadership should consider taking the following steps.

Foster an open culture

Return-to-work strategies can be successful only if every team member from the top down is on board. The communication surrounding a return to the workplace begins well before a strategy is implemented through effective and regular two-way conversations. When companies start with the basics of communications, it engages employees, shows leadership listens and exhibits care beyond their professional lives, which builds trust, increases employee morale and strengthens loyalty.

Creating a more transparent and communicative workplace culture takes continuous work, requires participation from all levels of the workplace and fine-tuned soft skills from front-line management. Leaders who have built a healthy, open culture can expect a smoother transition when they make changes to the workplace policies.

Communicate the why

When employees have successfully worked remotely, leadership needs to know exactly why they are asking employees to return to the office and the benefits it will have on the company and their colleagues. The reasons behind the decision to return to the office should be credible and communicated by leadership in a clear and consistent manner, aligning with the company's mission and values statements. Requesting employees' return to the office without a business case may cause discontent. For instance, employees may feel as if the company does not trust them to fulfill their role away from managerial supervision. Therefore, employers should consider how in-person work will help employees succeed in their roles and how they will react to the reasoning behind the request.

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Communicating why face-to-face interaction is necessary to the business and reiterating company values can help reinforce the culture, cultivate more innovative and collaborative teams, and bring out the best in the workforce. With frequent, consistent communication, there is less confusion about the company's purpose and a clear definition about the critical role employees play in the success of the business.

Show empathy and flexibility

If the pandemic taught business leaders anything at all, it is that compassion and flexibility are integral to the success of their employees and through them, their company. While the worst may be over, employees are still faced with juggling work and personal responsibilities, such as day care and school quarantines. The in-person work requirements may add unnecessary stress, which can lead to early burnout. Savvy leaders understand the importance of listening to employees during the decision-making process and balancing their needs and those of the business. For example, laundry is an expense many employees may not be able to prioritize at the moment; therefore, employers may want to look at dress code policies that lean more to the casual side. When leaders practice empathy, demonstrate authenticity and take the time to actively listen, understand and respond to the needs and concerns of their employees, it demonstrates genuine care.

In a flexible work era, employers who strive to foster an open culture, effectively communicate, promote collaboration, remain flexible and practice empathy will experience a smoother transition as employees better understand the many benefits of sharing a physical workplace once again.

• Bob McIntyre is a director of service operations with Insperity, a leading provider of human resources offering the most comprehensive suite of scalable HR solutions available in the marketplace. For more information about Insperity, call (800) 465-3800 or visit www.insperity.com.    

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