As COVID rates have declined, and the severity of new strains lessens, many companies are looking forward to bringing people back to the office. Plans to return have been fluid for almost a year now and employees are split on returning. So how do you decide how to return to the office?
According to Kastle Systems key-swipe data across ten metro regions, currently, 43% of employees are back to work at their pre-pandemic offices. That is a high since the pandemic started. According to their data, cities in Texas have the highest rate of employees returning. Austin has the highest rate at 63%, with Houston at 56% and Dallas at 51%, while the heart of Silicon Valley, the San Jose region, is only at 33% of employees returning. Most other metros, including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, DC, and San Francisco are all under 40% currently.
While many people are ready to return, from executives to entry-level roles, 64% have concerns about their mental health according to Korn Ferry’s research. This indicates that the majority of employees have reservations about going back to the office full time. And almost three-quarters of employees think it will be more difficult to return to the office than it was to be forced to work at home.
Executives who ignore or brush aside this research could be in the difficult position of needing to hire people in one of the tightest labor markets we have experienced. There is a burden on management to tell employees why it is beneficial to the company and the employee to come back to the office. Not surprisingly, the top concern in returning to the office, mentioned by 74% of respondents, is the commute. The time spent sleeping in, with family, working out, etc… is going to be replaced with getting to and from the office.
While many offices have been hybrid for some time now, not many of them have formalized what hybrid means. Without a formal plan, employees who are in the office don’t know who else is going to be there, or when they’ll be back in the office. The unpredictability can make hybrid more difficult than full remote for interoffice communications.
Providing options for your office return is a good approach, assuming you have set some guidelines for each option. Examples include defining which days everyone should be in the office and using these days for departmental meetings, organizational all-hands, committee meetings, and the like. Then everyone is in the same place and able to connect in person. Decide which days are fully remote and which days are flexible. Determine how many days people must be in the office, from everyday to one or two days a week.
Employees value the flexibility they have been afforded over the past couple of years. Nearly eight in ten would like location flexibility and seven in ten are unhappy with their current situation and plan to seek other opportunities this year. While this is a challenge when looking to create, build, or maintain company culture, be transparent with your reasons and clear about expectations.
There is no one right answer and it may take some time to determine the right balance for your organization. However, time is drawing near that we’ll be back at the office in some capacity, and the more input you receive from employees and the time you invest in talking through the pros and cons of your different options, the better off you’ll be when the office is full again.
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