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Considering a return to the office? Explore the pros & cons, including collaboration, culture & work-life balance. Find the right fit for your business.

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Return to the Office: Is It the Right Move for Your Business?

30 May

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Returning to the office is one of the hottest HR issues of 2024. Everyone has opinions. If your business has yet to take a final stand on the matter, you’re certainly not alone.

Right now, U.S. employers seem evenly split. According to a recent USA Today survey of 1,000 white-collar workers, 33% are remote workers, 33% have returned to the office full-time and 34% enjoy a hybrid work arrangement.  However, about 90% of companies plan to implement an RTO policy by the end of 2024.

As time goes by, those numbers may change. In the meantime, it’s up to every employer to determine what’s best for their business and workforce.

Several Perspectives Over Return to the Office

The issue of returning to the office is largely defined by two opposing points of view.

In many organizations, leadership believes that remote workers are less productive (a finding supported by some, but not all recent studies) and that collaboration and company culture suffer when employees work offsite.  

By contrast, many workers say they are more productive when working remotely, especially when they have eliminated a time-consuming commute. They maintain that their improved work/life balance leads to greater employee satisfaction, which makes them more engaged and committed. Also, some companies recognize the cost and resource benefits that come from avoiding an expensive office space.  

Considering Your Business Needs

While returning to the office can be the subject of heated discussion, ultimately, it’s a business decision. As such, every organization’s decision should be grounded in facts, outcomes, and objectives, not emotion and conjecture.

For this reason, employers may find it helpful to conduct a business-specific cost-benefit analysis, weighing the pros and cons of return to work as it impacts their company.

1) Company Benefits of Returning to the Office

Proponents of the return to the office initiative maintain that it offers the following advantages:

  • Improved focus and productivity – Direct management oversight and a formal office setting help keep employees engaged and on task.
  • Enhanced collaboration and problem-solving – Since in-person interactions often lead to deeper exchanges, as well as spontaneous brainstorming.
  • Better communication – People may connect better during face-to-face conversations—and when teams are together, everyone’s more likely to hear the same message.
  • A heightened sense of teamwork and company culture – Being physically together fosters a sense of belonging and camaraderie.
  • Improved mentorships and onboarding/training – Since live, in-person sessions often cover more ground and make more of an impact on workers.

2) Company Challenges of Returning to the Office

The return to the office might also introduce some difficulties, including:

  • Less happy, disengaged employees – Many employees have heartily embraced remote and don’t want to lose that flexibility—or return to commuting.
  • Higher costs – For employers, bringing the entire workforce back onsite likely results in higher property maintenance costs, while employees may pay more in commuting/parking costs, meals, and dependent care.    
  • Higher turnover– According to McKinsey research, the pursuit of flexible work arrangements is one of the top motivators for job hunters.
  • A limited talent pool – Employers that require employees to work onsite can lose access to both current and future long-distance talent.

The Hybrid Work Model: The Best of Both Worlds?

For many employers, the hybrid work model—in which employees split their work time between home and office—seems to be a happy medium.

Employees are more receptive to the idea because they still get to work at home part of the time; employers embrace it because they can more closely manage their workforce and optimize a collaborative culture.

Admittedly, an across-the-board hybrid model may not work for everyone. For example, unless exceptions are made, employers will lose any workers who live beyond commuting distance. And overhead costs may rise disproportionately to the amount of time that workers are actually onsite.  

The good news is, because there are no set rules, each employer has the latitude to craft an arrangement that’s just right for their business—and that goes for you, too.

Finding the Right Balance

In many respects, it looks like this is the year many employees may return to the office (if they haven’t already). But just what that looks like varies widely from business to business.

If you’re pondering a structured return to the office, it’s important to do your due diligence first.

In other words:

  • Ask for employee input – Find out how employees feel about returning to work and why, through surveys, team meetings, town halls, etc. Use that employee feedback to craft both your work model and your transition plan. 
  • Define your objectives – Knowing what you hope to accomplish by bringing workers back in the office will allow you to design the most effective work arrangement.
  • Try to be flexible – The more flexibility and autonomy you offer your employees, the more likely you are to obtain their buy-in.
  • Be transparent with employees – Share the reasons for your return-to-work initiative with your people. Chances are, some may initially resist and resent it, but if they understand that there are valid business reasons behind it, they’re more likely to partner with you to make it happen. A good communication strategy is a must.       

The Future of Your Work Environment

Yes, returning to the office is a hot-potato issue right now. But there is no one-size-fits-all solution—and you have the freedom to craft whatever arrangement works best for you and your people.

 And remember, you’re not alone. If you need help with this and other HR-related challenges, VensureHR is here to help. You can learn more here.

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