Five reasons people haven’t come back to the office, and five things you can do about it

It's fair to say that many offices haven't exactly gone back to business-as-usual, with workplaces struggling to maintain the occupancy they had before the rise of hybrid working. We often hear about this issue from our network and know that it's a particular challenge for businesses worldwide. Here we'll explore five reasons organizations have trouble returning people to the workplace and share some solutions for how you can create valuable workdays that attract workers back.

Empty office desks with screens by large window.

Problem #1: A lack of workplace connections and community

Many resist returning to the office because they don't feel connected to their colleagues or their organizational community. This issue has been amplified by hybrid and remote working: employees aren't attracted to the workplace because they don't feel a desire to work in person with teammates they may have only interacted with virtually. Similarly, if workers are used to conducting their roles from home, they might not feel the same attachment to an organizational identity or workplace culture.    

This lack of connection doesn't just affect attendance in the office. If employees don't feel in touch with their team and organizational identity, then they'll be more likely to seek a different role, leading to higher turnover costs. Too often, offices don't adapt quickly enough to strengthen their workplace communities, leading to a cycle of disconnection that can perpetuate workers staying at home.      

The solution: Understand and strengthen your workplace community

Companies need to emphasize that the office is central to their corporate identity and is a place for workers to connect to their roles. The onboarding period is crucial to establishing a community for new employees. These initial experiences are the basis for how workers view their roles within your organization and will impact how they interact with the office. During onboarding, initiate community-building efforts like events, meetups, in-person days, and one-on-one chats. Even smaller moments like a communal lunch or a chat around the coffee machine can bring people together and encourage them to make a habit of visiting the office.

But it's not enough to just establish a community when an employee joins; you must continuously optimize these efforts. In the office, workers should always feel comfortable meeting up with colleagues, hosting guests, and doing focus work when needed. Your workplace culture should always react to and encourage these different activities.  

"We conduct continuous feedback loops with our employees so that we can listen to and understand their changing needs to adapt our [workplace] and services," explained Régine Endtz, People & Business Manager at bol.com. "Based on this feedback, we have modified our campus so people can work productively and comfortably but can also meet up and have fun.”

Problem #2: Health and safety concerns

Besides feeling connected to your workplace community, employees need to feel safe and comfortable in their office. In the wake of the pandemic, people are more health conscious and less willing to enter spaces that don't have any safety measures in place. And amid the Great Resignation, workers are leveraging their agency and seeking workspaces that make them feel safe and healthy.  

For instance, an overcrowded office might make workers stay away because of the increased chance of getting ill. Similarly, lunches that don’t consider dietary restrictions (or no lunches provided at all) can make some people feel unwelcome in the office.  

But it isn't just about physical health: employees might be staying at home because they view the office as a stressful place that doesn't benefit their mental health. Offices need to create an atmosphere that makes employees feel productive and motivated rather than anxious and uncomfortable.

The solution: Instate well-being initiatives

Encourage workers to come to the office by prioritizing their well-being. Initiate health policies that clarify that workers shouldn't come to the workplace if they're sick. This will prevent the spread of germs and assure people that the office is safe. Similarly, occupancy management can ensure that your workplace is never overcrowded. Maintaining capacity can be accomplished with a workday solution that gathers data to help you understand your organization's unique needs. Healthy lunches or physical activities like a gym or workout classes can also attract employees to your office with the promise of a community that upholds physical wellness.  

To ensure mental well-being, start by creating a calming, welcoming atmosphere in your office through layout, design, and cultural initiatives. Many companies have also instilled avenues for employees to get direct help on well-being concerns. For instance, Microsoft created "Microsoft CARES": a platform that provides employees access to professionals that can help alleviate common work stresses.  

Régine noted that bol.com had a similar initiative: "We hired a vitality coach to help workers gain insight into their mental and physical health. It gave our employees a healthy baseline and provided them with personalized advice to manage and improve their health.”

Problem #3: Existing caregiver responsibilities

As many began working from home during the pandemic, it became easier to care for children and older or sick relatives. Similarly, many chose to adopt a pet during this period, which also makes workers resistant to working from the office again. Coming into the workplace means employees may not have the finances or support network necessary to take over these caregiver responsibilities that they've gotten used to while working remotely. It's hard for people to give up the set routine of working from home when leaving may cause anxiety for themselves or the people and pets they're taking care of.

The solution: Provide options that help alleviate caregiver stress

Organizations can start by offering caregiver assistance to help return workers to the office. Consider providing in-office childcare services or financial benefits for parents who stay home with their children. As hybrid working becomes more common, fifty-six percent of employers now offer some childcare benefits. For instance, JCPenny recently extended childcare benefits to all of its 50,000 employees to alleviate parental responsibilities and give workers the freedom to come into the office knowing their children are being cared for.  

Companies can also extend these types of benefits to those who care for sick or older relatives. Technology can also be key in helping people plan out their work weeks more easily, allowing them time in advance to source potential caregiving options.  

For people with pets, consider making your workspace pet-friendly. Companies such as Salesforce, Ben & Jerry's, and Build-a-Bear are well-known for welcoming pets—even providing animals with office-specific training to make them feel welcome and comfortable in the workplace.

Problem #4: The costs and challenges of commuting to the office

A difficult commute can take time out of workers' busy days, and when combined with rising gas prices and unreliable public transport, many workers would rather stay home rather than travel to work.    

Additionally, amid global warming, many recognize that staying home is better for the environment than commuting to the office and contributing to fossil fuel emissions. Even if employees do drive to the office, if they don't have a reliable place to park, they may spend an hour circling the building looking for a spot—likely making them think twice about visiting the workplace next time.

The solution: Remove the costs and uncertainty related to traveling to the office

To motivate people to commute to the office, start by funding their travel expenses to remove any cost-related concerns they may have. Also, consider offering carpooling options, which will reduce the environmental impact of visiting the office while encouraging workplace community building. If you provide company cars, choose sustainable vehicles that will help keep energy costs low while showing your workers that your organization won't sacrifice the environment at the expense of their presence in the office.  

Once workers arrive at the workplace, use a parking solution to ensure that workers are always guaranteed a spot. Régine from bol.com described various initiatives they've instilled to make traveling to the office a hassle-free experience:  

"We provide parking options with electrical charging stations and sensors to easily find the right parking spot. We have charging stations for bikes, and an electrical bus driving from Utrecht Central station to our campus. We also have a bicycle shed especially for road bikes that cannot be locked, which encourages a healthy option to get to work. This way, employees have multiple mobility options."

Problem #5: A lack of necessary equipment in the office

Workers often stay home because their workplace is not equipped for hybrid collaboration: inadequate meeting rooms, unsuitable furniture, and a lack of necessary tools won't attract anyone into the office. Notably, the technology that offices rely on might not be user-friendly or may not accurately reflect what employees want to use in the workplace. With the rise of hybrid working, workers need to know that their workplace is comfortable and equipped to handle hybrid meetings, or else they might as well work from the reliable convenience of their homes.

The solution: Identify and provide the resources people need to succeed

Open a dialogue with employees and use responsive feedback loops to learn what they're looking for in the office. Based on this, provide workers with the equipment they need to experience a fully productive, comfortable workday. Create rooms and areas with dedicated furniture and technologies for different types of work. Make sure your office has separate spaces dedicated to both focus work and social interaction: this helps employees feel welcome in the office no matter what kind of activities they need to perform that day.  

A future-proof, employee-centric office should have meeting rooms equipped with hybrid meeting technology. As Dirk Vaessen, Operational Manager South-west at Betabit, noted, "At the very minimum, you should provide your employees with the right equipment to work and meet in the office and at home."  

Consider using technology to "gamify" the experience of coming to the office, as Betabit did. "We used Mapiq and its API to make a competition. Awards were given to the employees who visited all of our offices first, or to those who sat at selected desks in different areas. This was done to promote collaboration and in-office working," said Dirk. "We definitely saw a rise in people attending the office during the period the game took place."    

Deploying these solutions

These are just some of the problems and solutions associated with returning people to the office. But ultimately, getting workers to come back to your spaces depends on their individual preferences and your business's unique culture. Mapiq can help you transform your office into an environment where people want to be, not just a place they have to be. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help alleviate your workplace struggles.

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