As the post-pandemic landscape unfolds, the prospect of returning to the office is back on the table. Businesses are crafting return-to-office (RTO) plans, eager to reestablish a sense of normalcy and explore the possibilities of in-person collaboration once again. 

However, RTO plans have been met with pushback from employees who have become accustomed to the freedom and flexibility of remote work. It’s with these concerns in mind that organizations must design new policies for work arrangements, paving the way for a mutually beneficial future of work. 

This article examines the impact of requiring in-office attendance, provides real-world examples of RTO plans, and outlines the necessary steps to implement an effective RTO plan for your organization.

Pressed for time? Here’s a quick summary…

  • Companies are experimenting with a variety of “carrot and stick” strategies to encourage employees to return to the office, from Salesforce’s philanthropic incentives to Google’s tracking of badge attendance.
  • Prioritizing workplace safety and health is of utmost importance.
  • Balancing employee preferences with business requirements ensures employee satisfaction and organizational success.
  • Providing positive reinforcement and engaging opportunities for remote workers creates an inclusive work environment that fosters collaboration and community.
  • Offering solutions such as subsidized parking, complimentary lunches, and financial literacy training can alleviate the financial strain on in-office employees.
  • Upholding adaptability and flexibility as core values is key while building an RTO plan.

The Push & Pull Of RTO: Enticing Resistant Employees To Return

As employers try to revive workplace dynamics and reconnect teams, they are implementing a wide range of initiatives to encourage in-person work, while preserving flexibility and employee needs.

The Power of Positive Reinforcement: Salesforce’s Philanthropic Approach

In the wake of mass layoffs and cutbacks, Salesforce is determined to rekindle its “Ohana” spirit of family. The cloud giant is encouraging office returns through its “Connect For Good” program, a philanthropic initiative that pledges $10 to a local charity for each day an employee comes into the office between June 12th and 23rd.

By showing up in the office (or for events), you’re strengthening connections and creating a positive wave of change in your community… Are you ready to make a real impact by simply showing up?

Senior Executive, Salesforce

Salesforce maintains its Ohana culture while acknowledging the value of remote work, flexibility, and empathy. Rather than taking a forceful approach to drive workers back to the office, the company leverages positive reinforcement through the Connect For Good program, instilling a sense of purpose and well-being within the workplace. 

At the same time, Salesforce’s remote employees aren’t excluded or overlooked for not being physically present in the office. The company includes them by making donations on behalf of remote workers who actively participate in virtual events. This inclusive gesture recognizes their valuable contributions, whether they engage virtually or choose to be present in the office.

Takeaway: Employers can foster workplace connections and encourage office presence through incentives rather than resorting to forceful measures. By embracing virtual events, remote employees can actively participate in a sense of community within the organization. 

Remember, while workplace relationships contribute to a positive corporate culture, branding the workplace as a “family” can be toxic as it can lead to unrealistic expectations and blurred lines between personal and professional boundaries.

Nurturing Innovation & Inclusion: Google’s Crackdown On Office Attendance

Google is implementing a three-day in-office policy, enforced by tracking office visits via badge swipes and incorporating attendance as part of performance reviews. Fiona Cicconi, Google’s Chief People Officer, is urging pre-approved remote employees to reconsider their work arrangements. This is Google’s most formal attempt to date to bring employees back to offices, despite previous plans to embrace remote work.

Of course, not everyone believes in ‘magical hallway conversations,’ but there’s no question that working together in the same room makes a positive difference.

Fiona Cicconi, CPO at Google

Fostering a sense of community is Google’s main motivator behind urging physical office presence. With an ongoing artificial intelligence arms race against rivals like Microsoft and OpenAI, creator of ChatGPT, the company promotes in-person collaboration to drive innovation and maintain a competitive edge. It’s worth noting that badge data viewed by company leaders is aggregate data and not individualized, respecting the privacy of remote employees.

Takeaway: In-person interaction can harness the power of teamwork and innovation. However, respecting the privacy and individual circumstances of approved remote workers is crucial to maintain an inclusive and supportive work environment.

Broken Promises & Employee Backlash: When Force Is Used To Abandon Remote Work

Companies who employ forceful measures with their RTO plan find themselves in the direct line of fire from resentful workers. Farmers Group employees are bristling with anger over the sudden reversal of remote work policies by their new CEO, clashing with previous promises. Over 2,000 workers have voiced their discontent on the company’s internal social platform, threatening resignation and unionization. 

As the company transitions to a hybrid model, staff within a 50-mile radius of an office are required to work in-office at least three days per week. This shift has drawn the ire of employees who made life-altering decisions, like relocating or selling their cars, based on prior remote-work assurances.

I was hired as a remote worker and was promised that was the company culture moving forward… This is seemingly a power move that is frankly disgusting.

Anonymous Farmers Group team member

Finding The Right RTO Plan For Your Organization

Developing the right RTO plan requires a tailored approach that considers the company’s unique culture, business requirements, and employee needs. Through mindful policies, organizations can develop effective RTO plans that foster productivity, collaboration, and employee satisfaction.

Finding The Right RTO Plan For Your Organization

Assessing Employee Needs

Conducting surveys, interviews, and focus groups can provide valuable insights into employee needs and preferences regarding their work arrangements. This process helps identify concerns and challenges related to returning to the office, allowing employers to determine suitable solutions or exceptions. 

While it is important to give special consideration to the insights of managers tasked with leading a team of employees, it is equally important to consider the opinion and preference of every worker. By taking all perspectives into account, organizations can promote employee satisfaction and retention while creating an environment that maximizes individual performance and productivity.

Balancing Employee Preferences & Business Requirements

The RTO plan should align with the overall mission, values, and objectives of the company. Understanding the organizational culture and business requirements ensures that the plan supports the existing work environment. Factors such as flexibility, autonomy, and the nature of employees’ tasks play a significant role in determining the need for an RTO plan and who it applies to.

Consider these examples:

  • Employee A is a software developer who primarily works independently and requires minimal in-person collaboration with others. Their tasks involve coding, debugging, and testing software applications.

Employee A could work remotely given the high level of flexibility and autonomy in completing their tasks. They can maintain productivity and effectiveness while working remotely, leveraging technology for communication and coming into the office as needed.

  • Employee B is a project manager responsible for overseeing a team of designers and coordinating client interactions. Their role requires frequent collaboration, face-to-face meetings, and hands-on coordination to ensure project success.

Employee B should be physically present in the office or embrace a hybrid arrangement to effectively communicate with team members, provide guidance, resolve issues in real time, and maintain a strong connection with clients. The nature of their tasks necessitates in-person interaction, making it more suitable for them to return to the office.

Implementing A Flexible & Inclusive Approach

Many organizations are emphasizing employee experience to lure workers back to the office. One survey indicated that employees are more inclined to work in person if their office provides a balanced mix of spaces that cater to their needs, such as quiet spaces and collaboration zones. These not only serve as enticing features that enhance satisfaction, but they also promote inclusivity by accommodating the unique work requirements of individuals who thrive in a less distracting environment. 

It remains crucial to recognize that employees have varying needs, circumstances, and preferences and consider flexible options. This might involve offering hybrid work models that combine remote and in-office work. By adopting flexibility and inclusivity as core values, organizations can create an RTO plan that is understanding and empathetic to all workers. An insightful quote from a Perkins & Will article reflects on these principles:

Employees will not have the same comfort level about returning to an office environment. Employees will not have the same ability to return [based on]: availability of childcare, reduced public transportation services, the need to care for others and the increased risk due to health conditions. The message must be clear that it is ok to defer your return and no reason is needed.

Creating A Safe & Healthy Workplace

An effective RTO plan requires a strong focus on workplace health and safety, including compliance with new policies and regulations resulting from the pandemic. Organizations must stay informed about local, state, or federal regulations to determine the necessary adjustments for their workspace.  

It’s imperative to encourage sick employees to stay home without fear of retribution. Not only does this prevent the spread of illness and maintain the overall health of the workforce, but it also promotes personal well-being by allowing individuals the necessary time to rest and recover.

Addressing Financial Implications For In-Office Employees

Addressing Financial Implications For In-Office Employees

A common complaint for workers is the financial strain caused by returning to the office multiple times per week. The costs of commuting, office attire, daily lunches, and more add up, with some employees reporting spending between 20% and 30% of their paychecks to return to office. Many face a recurring cost of over $100 per week for required in-person work. 

Employers can alleviate the financial strain on in-office employees by offering solutions such as free or subsidized parking and complimentary or subsidized lunches. Additionally, equipping employees with cost-saving strategies like meal-prepping and purchase waiting periods can enhance their financial literacy.

Assessing Regularly

The process doesn’t end once an RTO plan has been rolled out. Continue requesting employee feedback and address any concerns or challenges they may face during the transition. Conducting consistent check-ins allows organizations to gauge the effectiveness of the RTO plan, identify areas for improvement, and make necessary adjustments based on changing circumstances. 

Adaptability is key as individual needs and circumstances may change over time. Regular dialogue and reassessment of work arrangements ensure organizations continue to meet the evolving needs of their workforce.

Get our latest articles delivered straight to your inbox!

Other Articles In Future of Work