Ninety percent of organizations have solidified their return-to-office (RTO) strategy, seeking to recapture a sense of normalcy and foster in-person collaboration. However, this move has been met with pushback from employees, who are reluctant to give up the freedom and flexibility that remote work offers. 

This ongoing debate presents human resources professionals with a challenge: crafting an RTO strategy that aligns organizational goals with the changing expectations of the workforce. Here are some actionable insights and strategies to ensure a balanced approach to RTO. 

Pressed for time? Here’s a quick summary…

  • Determining RTO Model: RTO strategies should align with both the company’s mission and diverse employee needs, considering factors like job roles, teamwork requirements, and individual preferences for remote or in-office work. 
  • Flexibility & inclusivity: Offering a range of spaces within the office (e.g. collaboration areas and quiet zones) and implementing flexible work models (e.g. freeform hybrid model or flexible work hours) accommodates various working styles. 
  • Navigating employee concerns: Addressing the financial implications of commuting, childcare responsibilities, and mental health challenges shows responsiveness to employee needs during the RTO transition. 
  • Maintaining positive employee relations: Through transparent communication, team activities, and ongoing recognition, companies can maintain morale and a sense of belonging among employees during RTO adjustments. 

Determining Your Organization’s RTO Model 

RTO arrangements have settled into a predominantly hybrid routine, blending in-office and remote work to offer the best of both worlds. This model acknowledges the benefits of remote work—flexibility, work-life balance, and reduced commuting—while retaining the advantages of in-person interactions, such as boosted collaboration and team cohesion. A successful hybrid model is tailored to suit organizational and individual employee needs. 

Finding The Right RTO Plan For Your Organization

Assessing Employee Needs

Before cementing an RTO plan, conduct an employee survey to tap into the workforce’s preferences and concerns. Sample questions could include: 

  • “How many days per week would you prefer to work from the office?” 
  • “What concerns do you have about returning to the office?” 
  • “What aspects of remote work would you like to retain?” 

While it’s important to give special consideration to managers’ insights, it’s equally crucial to weigh the opinions of each employee. Organizations should use feedback to guide decisions or clearly explain why some suggestions aren’t feasible. This ensures the process is meaningful, not just a formality, promoting employee satisfaction, retention, and maximizing individual performance and productivity. 

Implementing A Flexible & Inclusive Approach

Implementing A Flexible & Inclusive Approach

Many organizations are emphasizing employee experience to encourage 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.  

Recognize that employees have varying needs, circumstances, and preferences, and consider providing flexible options. Within hybrid work arrangements, this can involve: 

  • Implementing a freeform hybrid model, which has a set number of required days at the office while giving employees the autonomy to choose their in-office days 
  • Allowing flexible work hours 
  • Offering the possibility of fully remote work when necessary 

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.

Balancing Employee Preferences & Business Requirements

The RTO plan should align with the company’s purpose and objectives. 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.

Balancing Employee Preferences & Business Requirements

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.

Navigating Employee Concerns 

Addressing employees’ RTO concerns ensures a smooth transition and demonstrates responsiveness to the workforce’s needs. 

Financial Concerns

Financial Concerns

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.  

To alleviate this strain, offer solutions such as free or subsidized parking and complimentary or subsidized lunches. Additionally, suggest cost-saving strategies like meal-prepping and purchase waiting periods. 

Childcare/Dependent Care 

Some employees face the challenge of balancing work with childcare or dependent care responsibilities. Support measures can include: 

Consider lifestyle spending accounts (LSAs) for a versatile solution to support employees’ unique needs during the RTO transition. LSAs empower employees to allocate funds according to their individual needs and preferences, demonstrating an organization’s commitment to their well-being and satisfaction. 

Mental Well-Being

Mental Well-Being

The transition back to the office involves dealing with a range of stressors, from commuting anxieties and adapting to office routines to the balance between work and personal life. These challenges call for mental health support and flexible accommodations in the workplace. 

Employers can implement measures to support mental well-being such as: 

  • Conducting one-on-one mental health check-ins 
  • Partnerships with therapy and counseling services 
  • Organizing wellness activities like meditation and mindfulness exercises 

Maintaining Positive Employee Relations 

Maintaining positive employee relations is vital in the RTO period, especially as some employees may have reservations about leaving remote work behind.  

Open Communication Is Key

Open Communication Is Key

Prioritize transparency by sharing the rationale behind the RTO plan and providing regular updates about the process. Welcoming feedback through open forums and frequent check-ins ensures employees feel like active participants in the process rather than reluctant subjects. Employers that adapt their strategies accordingly demonstrate authentic care for employees. 

Focus On Rebuilding Connection 

The RTO period presents an opportunity to rebuild connections within the team and integrate new hires into the company culture. This involves: 

  • Organizing team-building activities 
  • Hosting virtual coffee breaks or casual catch-up sessions  
  • Implementing a buddy system for new hires 
  • Scheduling periodic all-hands meetings or departmental check-ins 

Emphasize Employee Recognition

Emphasize Employee Recognition

Acknowledge employees’ contributions and adaptability during the RTO transition and beyond. Celebrating accomplishments in team meetings, company-wide communications, or special events can reinforce a culture of appreciation and boost employee morale. 

Technology & The Evolving Workspace 

As workplaces evolve into hybrid models, HR professionals must prioritize technological efficiency and cybersecurity to ensure seamless operations. 

Optimizing Tech for Hybrid 

Tools like project management software, video conferencing, and shared digital workspaces are foundational in a hybrid setup. Provide training for these tools, promoting both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration. Regular feedback from employees can help refine these tech solutions for better efficiency. 



The shift to a hybrid model often means an increase in the number of devices accessing the company’s network remotely, which can pose cybersecurity risks. HR, in collaboration with IT, should implement and communicate key security protocols, including: 

  • Secure VPN access 
  • Regular updates and robust passwords 
  • Multi-factor authentication 
  • Training on recognizing security threats 

Additionally, create clear policies for using personal devices and ensure they’re secure for work purposes. 

This article was last updated on April 8, 2024

Other Articles In Future of Work