How to encourage staff to return to the office

<?xml encoding=”utf-8″ ?????????>

If you ask your staff to return to the office full-time, you ask them to forfeit significant benefits, such as reduced commuting time and costs and a healthy work-life balance.

It’s certainly possible to tempt staff to return to the office, but employers considering the transition should be prepared to re-think their office environment and culture and offer meaningful incentives that align with their employees’ values.

In this blog, the UK’s leading company formation agent, 1st Formations, explores three meaningful ways in which small business owners can encourage their home-based staff to return to the office for good.

Why are staff reluctant to return to the office?

First, let’s establish what it is about working from home that people prefer to being in the office. Once we pinpoint what matters to them, we can explore suitable incentives to replace them with and make returning to the office a smoother and more attractive prospect.

According to a poll by TravelPerk, the top three reasons why employees prefer working from home are:

They spend less time spent on commuting
They have a better work-life balance
They feel more productive at home

Other reasons include a preferable balance between interacting with colleagues and having time at home, a positive impact on mental and physical health, and improved focus. If you look at other surveys and studies on the matter, you’ll likely see a similar mix of answers.

The perks of working from home are undeniable. However, that’s not to say that workers lack a desire to be in the office at all. In fact, according to a study by Knight Frank, just 8% of people said they want to work from home all of the time.

Admittedly, most (79%) said they prefer a blend of office-based and home working, citing that balance and flexibility are important. With that in mind, employers who want to encourage their staff to return to the office full-time must bear these priorities in mind and accommodate them in other ways. Let’s look at some of those options.

Subsidised travel costs

With the main barrier to returning to the office being the commute, start by evaluating whether you can remove or alleviate some of those constraints for your employees. If free travel is too costly for the business, could you consider other financial support such as subsidised travel?

Depending on where your office is and where your employees are based, some of them could be facing substantial commuting costs with a full-time return to the office. For those employees, one option is a season ticket loan scheme.

The scheme allows them to purchase a tax-free season ticket for various modes of transport (including train and bus) in advance. The loan is then repaid on a monthly basis via a salary sacrifice. By bulk-buying tickets ahead of time, staff enjoy substantial savings on their commuting costs as well as a manageable repayment system.

There are important benefits for employers, too. To align the scheme with your budget, you typically have the option to set a maximum spending limit. Also, employees on the scheme are responsible for sourcing their own passes, so there is minimal admin involved for you.

Of course, not all employees will live far away from the office. For those who are more local, why not look into a cycle-to-work scheme?

Similar to a season ticket scheme, a cycle-to-work scheme allows staff to hire a bike and safety equipment using their pre-tax pay. This means that a basic-rate taxpayer could save up to £680 with the scheme, according to the Department for Transport guidance. On top of that, it’s a greener and healthier way to travel.

The main way to incentivise staff to return to the office is to alleviate the burden of the commute. Small businesses with tight budgets who may not be able to grant pay raises can explore alternative financial benefits such as these travel schemes. In turn, you’ll have appreciative staff who are happier to travel to the office more frequently.

Support a positive work/life balance

The time remote and hybrid workers have saved on commuting since the pandemic has allowed for a greater work-life balance, giving people more time to dedicate to wellness, personal commitments, and hobbies. To incentivise staff to happily return to the office, they should feel confident that they’ll be able to maintain a healthy work/life balance.

A simple (and free) way to implement this is with flexible working hours. Provided that staff fulfil their contracted hours, they can start earlier or later than normal, making it easier to fit a doctor’s appointment, fitness class, or the school run into their work schedule.

Another way to incentivise staff to return to the office is to offer volunteering opportunities. You can do this via corporate volunteering days, whereby you select an official charity partner and employees take paid time off (typically a few days a year) to contribute to their cause.

Volunteering isn’t merely getting a day off work; it’s an excellent way to help staff feel empowered by making a difference in their local communities, learning, and sharing different skills, and feeling more connected to the company. As a result, they can enjoy a healthy work/life balance and, therefore, be happier to comply with the business’ policy on returning to the office.

Finally, if you don’t already do so, consider adopting a culture that allows people to disconnect from work. According to a Deloitte survey, around three-quarters of Gen Z and millennial workers say that an “always on” work culture (which involves people working outside of core business hours) increases their stress levels and contributes to a poor work/life balance, with seven in 10 of them admitting that they respond to work messages after hours at least once a week.

For a busy entrepreneur who lives and breathes their business, it can be easy to expect a similar approach from employees. While some people will be more than happy to do so, it’s important to bear in mind that may not always work for everyone or agree with their personal schedule.

Therefore, to facilitate a healthy work/life balance (and to avoid burnout) when staff return to the office, they should be encouraged to prioritise their wellbeing by switching off when necessary and feel comfortable in doing so.

Improve productivity in the office

Productivity is another key consideration when asking staff to return to the office. We established that people generally feel more productive when working from home.

There could be plenty of reasons for that, such as the lack of distracting chit-chat among colleagues, no impromptu or unproductive meetings, and access to suitable equipment. So, to incentivise staff to return to the office, you need to offer an environment that people want to work in, allowing them to do their jobs as effectively as they can from home.

Now, work settings have advanced incredibly since the pandemic and your employees now need more from their workplace to be truly productive and do their best. This involves basic elements like ergonomic furniture, spacious workstations, and plenty of natural light.

But remember that everyone works differently, so the office should accommodate various modes of working. For example, for those who prefer to get their head down and work in isolation, a private, contained space where they can focus and avoid distractions is a great feature.

For those who prefer to collaborate and tend to get more done in a social setting, perhaps a coffee table and some chairs around the kitchen area might be useful. Or those who get a productivity boost from fresh air might enjoy a comfortable outdoor space to work in.

In a nutshell, the modern office needs to be well-equipped with facilities that deliver the same – or higher – productivity levels that staff would normally achieve at home (and of course, free snacks and posh coffee machines are very much still well-received).

Conclusion

Even though working in the office was an inconceivable idea not too long ago, small business owners contemplating a permanent return to the office certainly aren’t alone – plenty of other organisations have already completed or initiated the transition.

The great news is that staff are willing to return as they, too, recognise that there are plenty of benefits to working in a shared space. But there’s no denying that the way we work has changed in the last few years, and business owners wanting to incentivise staff to return to the office can do so by helping with commuting costs, supporting a positive work/life balance, and adapting the office to improve productivity.