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What humans need to come back to the office

As we look toward a post-pandemic future, many of us are craving a sense of normalcy including getting back to the office. But if there’s anything that the past year has taught us, it’s that the way we live and work has forever changed. Those longing for a return to how things were way back in 2019, will be disappointed and needing to adjust quickly if they want to thrive in this new environment. 

The concept of an office or workplace has also changed. Employers are quickly laying down return-to-the-office plans, hoping that they can pick up the business from where they left off. The only issue is – most people are comfortable working from home and are not rushing back to the office. According to a PwC study called Hopes and Fears 2021, only 9% of those working remotely want to go back full-time to a traditional office environment.

It’s not that employees have grown to hate the workplace so much. People love working remotely, but there's also so much that they miss about physically working in an office with friends and colleagues. Based on a recent survey, isolation is one of the biggest challenges employees face when working from home. They see working in an office as a way to feel a sense of community and belonging, something they don’t get to fully experience when simply connecting virtually with colleagues.

In our Office manager of the future eBook, EAs, PAs and other office managers have shared their views about the office of the future. Elizabeth Tregoning, Specialist EA recruiter at Boutique, mentioned, "Working from home can be super isolating. So many of us were missing the team and the social interaction. For many parents, it's almost an escape - where they can have adult conversations."

Adele Selby, EA at Lander and Rogers and Co-Chair at trib Australia, also emphasized the need to connect with work mates: “Human connections - It’s just not the same as face to face, grabbing a coffee with a work colleague, bouncing ideas, reading body language.”

So how can the office of the future entice employees back?

Bringing employees back to the office can deliver a number of benefits to the business, from increasing team performance and productivity to enhancing engagement and experience. But to encourage people back to a physical workplace, employers need to carefully rethink their return-to-the-office plans. 

So how can you make sure you are ready to entice employees back to the office? We have compiled some thoughts and insights to help: 

1. Create a healthy and safe environment 

In planning for staff to return to the office, management’s top priority is clearly the health and safety of everyone in the company. Even in Australia, where COVID-19 seems to be relatively under control, an outbreak could still happen at any time. So, businesses have to make sure they create a safe and healthy working environment. 

This starts with complying with federal, state and local health and safety guidelines, which includes cleaning and disinfecting the workplace plus encouraging good hygiene practices for all staff. The company can also consider making changes to the layout of the office to allow social distancing, and implementing guidelines to limit the number of people in meeting rooms or breakout areas.  

Adele Selby of Lander and Rogers also stresses the need for a safe and healthy workplace: "I think it's important, firstly, to make sure that employees feel safe. That's going to entice a lot of people to come back."

2. Being empathetic and fostering this within leadership

Leadership will be a key factor in enticing employees back to the office. Employees will be looking for guidance and support during these difficult and uncertain times.

Business leaders would have to show empathy when dealing with staff. They need to look after employee health and well-being in the workplace – making sure everyone feels valued and appreciated. 

People have different circumstances and deal with uncertainty in different ways. Leaders and managers need to create a working environment that somehow caters to their employees’ unique needs and preferences. Being able to listen and understand their staff will go a long way in encouraging people back to the workplace and building a more supportive company culture.

3. Encouraging connection in the workplace

Another thing that business leaders can focus on to bring employees back into the office – is to build a more social and collaborative environment. Isolation is a big issue for employees working from home. They long for human connection and want to spend time with friends and colleagues in the workplace.

Although people get to interact with others through video conferencing and chat applications, it’s not as smooth and engaging as collaborating face-to-face. According to Sarah-Jane Lamont, Client Relations Executive Assistant at Axiom Workplaces, collaboration is better done in person within a shared workspace: "Something we've been working on is the idea of collaborative spaces, fit for purpose spaces in the office for working on a project together. It's about having those spaces that are really well thought through, that are not available at home, that you can get really productive and engaging work done with your colleagues and also have fun. That's what will bring people back."

Aside from improving employee collaboration, it’s also important to build a social workplace. For many, the office isn’t just a venue for work. It’s a place that builds community, a social hub where people get together in a fun and engaging way. So, when it’s safe to do so (and as restrictions ease), managers should plan and organise social activities that give employees a chance to spend enjoyable time with colleagues. 

4. Giving employees purpose and connecting their work to something bigger

Let’s face it, all of us want to be part of something bigger. We want our life and work to mean something and make a difference in the world. A PwC report, Putting Purpose to Work, stresses the importance of purpose in the workplace. Especially during these trying times, people want something to work for, to aim for. They want to bring meaning to their work and make an impact, not only for their contributions to the company, but to society and even to the world.  

Business leaders can help engage and motivate people to return to the office by clearly communicating the value of their work to the company’s overall mission and purpose. 

5. Provide a flexible work environment

Over the past year, employees have experienced the benefits of working from home. But they also see the value in doing face-to-face work in a physical workplace. To encourage people back to the office, businesses must be ready to provide a more flexible work environment – one that gives staff more control over their time working in the office or at home. 

According to Gensler’s Australia Workplace Survey, over two-thirds of the Australian workforce prefer a hybrid work model. So, most workers don’t want to return full-time to a traditional office. They want a mix of remote and office work. Employers that provide this kind of flexible working arrangement have a better chance of enticing employees back to the workplace.

6. Remind people why the office is great

Finally, businesses need to communicate the perks and benefits of working in a physical workplace. This is the time to remind employees why it’s great to work in the office - everything from the ergonomic chairs, standing desks and super-fast wi-fi to free staff meals, snacks and numerous social events. 

Luke Taylor, Head of Experience at TBWA\Melbourne + Adelaide, tells us why he looks forward to coming back to the office: "We have an awesome culture, and people want to work in our office because of it. Even our clients choose to work here! We love to treat people to the unexpected and spark joy in our workspace. Whether it's a high-quality office coffee machine, hot cross buns delivered, hot and buttered, to your desk, Chuppa Chup Tuesdays, or a gospel choir on a dull Monday morning - we create a space people want to be in." 

To learn more on how to entice employees back to the office and about the workplace of the future, download our Office manager of the future eBook. 

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