As vaccinations continue, a return to the office is starting to become a possibility. However, some companies are assuming that not all office workers are interested in resuming pre-pandemic working patterns.
Some large technology companies are supporting remote working to a degree. For example, Facebook is allowing some employees to apply to work remotely full time, while Microsoft, after surveying employees, is allowing remote work for up to 50 percent of working time.
By contrast, some employers in financial services are taking a different approach. Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase want bankers to return to the office full time. That said, PwC research found that 69 percent of financial firms expect a majority—60 percent—of employees to work from home at least once a week going forward.
As more companies consider how and when employees return to offices, several issues are explored, including public health, employee feedback, human resource guidance, business needs, real estate and productivity levels. Use this article as a starting point to inform your thinking.
Consult public health guidelines for your area.
Before planning to return to the office, check with your health authorities and local vaccination rates in your area for specific tips on when and how to return to the office safely.
Survey your employees regarding remote working and returning to the office.
The next step in preparing for a return to the office is to survey your employees about remote working, a return to the office, and related topics. Work with your human resources staff to develop a survey about remote working habits and productivity.
You can use survey software tools like SurveyMonkey, which is used by a majority of Fortune 500 companies, to send surveys to your employees. Asking a third party to administer the survey can help in organizing the data and address employee concerns about anonymity.
Consider asking questions about the following remote working topics:
- What do you think could help us to improve daily communication?
- Which coworkers or departments do you wish you had more connection with?
- Would you say our meetings are remote-friendly?
- Are you crystal clear on your role and what you should be working on?
Once you have the survey results, ask your human resources team to interpret the results. Once you have some thoughts to share, invite your employees to a conference call to discuss the survey findings further.
Determine your actual needs for office work and working remotely.
Depending on your business needs, different combinations of remote work and office work may be suitable. To spark your discussion with human resources, consider different factors like your industry and the nature of each job position.
- Industry factors. Some industries will require an in-person presence. For example, a personal care business that provides haircuts, massages and other services for customers would probably struggle with adopting a fully remote workplace. By contrast, a technology company might choose to seek inspiration from Microsoft, which has adopted a hybrid working arrangement that combines remote work and working from the office. If office workers in your industry expect to work remotely, accommodating that demand may help you retain employees.
- Job factors. Some job positions are suited to working remotely while others are not. For example, many office workers who spend most of their time working on computers may work remotely. On the other hand, transportation jobs like driving a truck or making deliveries to customers do not lend themselves to working remotely.
As you complete this analysis, work with human resources to communicate your revised expectations to employees.
Consider reducing your office space.
If all employees return to the office and your company operates in a pre-pandemic manner, you may not need to make any real estate changes. However, if your employees prefer working remotely, you may want to explore real estate changes.
Several large companies are reducing their office space needs. JPMorgan Chase, Ford Motor, Salesforce and Target are all giving up office space, according to the New York Times. Specifically, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase stated that the bank “may need seats for only 60 [out of 100 employees] on average” due to remote work. Further, United Airlines is giving up 17 percent of its office space at Willis Tower in Chicago.
If your company reduces its office space, then adopting a hybrid workplace model may be a good fit. A hybrid workplace is a way that you can potentially gain the benefits of remote work (e.g., reduce commuting time and expenses) and in-person work (e.g., increased communication).
Explore ways to encourage workers to return to the office.
Before seeking legal advice to compel employees to return to the office, take some time to look into other solutions.
For example, you may have found evidence that remote working is causing your company to lose productivity. In that situation, explore ways your management team can avoid remote working issues, like those caused by a lack of productivity tools. Alternatively, you may want to study industries where productivity levels have been maintained or improved when employees worked remotely. In the financial industry, more than 70 percent of employers are satisfied with remote work according to a PwC survey.
If you feel that the business is suffering from remote work, you might consider discussing a hybrid workplace. In a hybrid workplace, your employees come into the office on certain days and work remotely the rest of the week. For example, some companies are experimenting with a three-day in-office hybrid workplace schedule.
As you discuss working from the office with your employees, look for ways to stay flexible. Some employees, such as those who lack a dedicated home office space, might prefer to work in the office. Other workers might prefer the ability to focus for long periods while working remotely.