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More and more companies are calling people back to the office. Some only ask for a few days a week, others demand a full-time return, and there are those in between. But there’s one thing these companies all have in common, and that’s the welcome they get from employees: opposition. Such mandates met with much hostility.
Tesla was ready to have 40 percent of its employees quit or look for another job when the return-to-work mandate went into effect, noted one expert. (Tesla continues to struggle with this mandate due to space and resource shortages.) Alphabet too experienced some backlash from Google Maps employees when it attempted to recall employees to the office, receiving a petition citing several concerns about the request.
While employers are not necessarily obligated to meet the needs of their employees, it is important to recognize that the employer-employee relationship is a free-market interaction. Ignore work experience and risk losing good talent – more than ever before. People have gotten a taste for the flexibility offered by remote working, so coming back to the office just isn’t as appealing. This was shown by a worldwide survey 64 percent of employees would consider seeking employment elsewhere if asked to return to the office full time.
Related: 1 in 3 employees are willing to quit their job if asked to return to the office, study says
Culture: the saving grace
If you get resistance to calling people back to the office, turn your attention to the company culture. Was it built on purpose? At EOS Worldwide, we’ve done what we can to make sure people meet in person at least once a quarter. We have created a culture where people genuinely like each other. Our employees love to hang out, make phone calls, chat via text, and so on. Building a culture of belonging and fostering meaningful relationships was especially vital for us as a virtual company.
After all, people who like each other find ways to connect outside the office. That’s how people work. It is human nature to form communities. The same goes for setting up workspaces. Even with the hybrid work model, you have to ask yourself how you can maintain the flexibility and reap the benefits of accessing the talent available around the world.
Whether you’re working remotely or going back to the office, it’s important to create a place where people want to come and work. You can use these ideas to get you started:
1. Reset expectations for both the company and the employees
Remote plumbing isn’t a thing – any more than remote landscaping, food service, dentistry or bus driving. Many professions require employees to be physically on site, most of which are almost completely ignored in the discussions of returning people to the office. There’s a lot of single-chute psychology going on these days that ends up creating a myopic focus on how the global economy works. In many cases, some people simply have no choice but to return to the workplace.
Related: Why returning to the office is essential to manage the retention crisis
If this sounds like your business, the first order of business is to prioritize expectations. However, remember that expectations are a two-way street. Of course, set clear expectations for your team, but also make sure you understand the expectations of employees. One survey was found almost half of the employees have quit their jobs because the workplace did not meet their expectations. Whether in-person or virtual, you and your leadership team need to make sure they know what’s on everyone’s mind — and vice versa.
2. Get everyone on the same wavelength — literally
One of the unique (and strange) aspects of in-person work that remote work can’t compete with is a phenomenon called physiological synchrony, in which two people are in sync behaviorally, physiologically, or even neurologically — and better collaboration therefore. Humans naturally pick up on non-verbal cues and work better together as a result, even going so far as to synchronize brain waves.
But to take advantage of this personal magic, you need to get employees through the door. It already takes a lot of time, energy and focus to build the confidence needed to create high performing teams. Not only that, but employers also need to promote psychological safety – create an environment where employees feel empowered to raise ideas, questions or concerns without retaliation.
Teams with a high level of psychological safety outperform teams that lack this specific dynamic. Studies have shown that companies with high psychological safety experience 76 percent more engagement, experience 74 percent less stress and are 57 percent more likely to collaborate.
Related: 5 facts about workplace communication you need to know
3. Celebrate successes together
For some employers, the urge to come back to the office stems from a lack of a culture of discipline and responsibility. They worry that they can’t control remote workers effectively, but this attitude actually hurts their efforts to bring back physical offices. After all, telling your employees to come back so you can keep an eye on them is infantilizing as Apple employees are angry about a return to the office stated in an open letter. They told the company to “stop treating us like school kids who need to be told when to be where and what homework to do.”
The crux of this problem is a lack of trust between employee and employer and a misplaced focus on the “time and effort” economy. But spending time on work does not necessarily mean success. These companies should shift to a “results” economy — celebrating and recognizing employee success. Not only will this build camaraderie and improve morale, it will also stop employees from just “seeming busy” and more toward improving measurable results. The extra time they get from busy work gives employees more time to develop and deepen new skills — benefits that also benefit the company.
Whichever way you go when you return to the office, even if it’s a hybrid work model, it’s more important than ever to be thoughtful and intentional with your efforts. You must do what is best for your business and what is best for your employees. Make sure you have the right balance, then you will not experience any resistance when employees call back to the office.