Can we persuade employees to come back to the office

Can we persuade employees to come back to the office?

Working from home wasn’t so bad for some during the lockdown. There was more time for family, more time for exercise and more time to contemplate life.

22 July 2020

The time saved from commuting was great. So too was the lack of office politics and the flexibility to work whenever you wanted.

For these peopleit was liberating.  

For others, however, it has been a lonely experience.

The structured routine of the workday, coupled with socializing in the office, has been sorely missed by them. Work has always been a part of their life and the disruptive change to their social life has been tough.

Now that the lockdown is over, companies face a dilemma. Should they persuade employees to come back to the office, leave them be, or give them a choice?

This would never have been an issue in the past. There was no reason to choose: everyone worked in the office and nobody thought about the alternatives.

Remote working has become part of life

Times have changed. Working from home is no longer seen as a privilege, but as a right by some working professionals. We now have the technology to do it and we have a taste for what it’s like.

For companies, there is a lot at stake. They need to keep their employees productive and happy during these tough economic times – their business depends on it. That means organizing themselves and working out how they can manage a mixed workforce – one that’s partially in the office and partially working remotely.

For those employees that are not in the office, a lot more is needed than technology and connectivity. There are other considerations too. For instance, perhaps the start and end of a working day will need to be defined. If it isn’t, work-life and home-life might lead to some workers overworking and others not working.

There are other considerations too. Do employees need standing desks or better office chairs for health reasons? Both of these nowadays are standard in most offices.

Perhaps employees don’t want to work at home, or in the office. Instead, they might prefer to work in a vibrant co-working space that’s closer to where they live. This might be another option to consider.

Employees that return to the office will also need to feel safe

By contrast, companies will also need to think carefully about those employees who choose to return to the office.

There is a fear that the virus will persist, even though the lockdown has ended. There are also huge concerns about the rate of infection rising, especially in places where people remain in close proximity to each other.

Across the world in major cities, there have been sporadic outbreaks in bars, clubs, and offices. The risk of infection is also thought to be high on public transport. In Switzerland subsequently, it’s now mandatory to wear a mask on trains and buses.

Companywide testing for Covid-19 when employees return to the office may also be prudent. It would not only reduce the risk of an office outbreak but also make employees feel safer.

Within the office, there will be some changes to consider. For now, many offices have been relaxed in social distancing. It’s difficult to impose a two-meter rule for instance, if the office is open plan.

The solution could be if the federal government made wearing a mask in the office mandatory. However, wearing a mask for the whole working day might prove tough for some people. An alternative could be to erect perspex between desks. This would of course be hugely costly.

The counter-argument to this would be that none of these safety measures would be needed if everyone worked from home.

Is Switzerland moving toward a more disparate workforce?

What companies decide to do will depend on what makes business sense. In some cases, it could be cheaper to manage a professional workforce remotely. Desk space in prime office locations can be costly. Switzerland could, therefore, be moving towards a more disparate workforce.

Perhaps the solution, therefore, is not to try and encourage employees back to the office. It should instead be about providing the operational infrastructure for employees to make a choice. By offering this option to employees, companies can still reduce their costs and downsize their offices.

It would also be hugely liberating for employees and add to a company’s employer brand.

Companies, therefore, may not need to persuade employees to return to the office. All they need to do is offer them the choice of whether to return or not.