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working from home

With 4 in 10 companies returning to a full-time office week in 2023, the Great Office Return appears to be continuing in 2024, as the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday Era slowly dwindles.

The Parent Company of WedMD has gone viral for backlash on their internal video urging workers to return to the office and Virgin Media O2 publishing data linking an increase in loneliness among staff to working solely from home.

Trying to get employees to step back into an office sparks mixed emotions. These differing attitudes on remote working can cause employees to quickly divide into camps of pro-home and pro-office.

The balance between the normalisation of working from home during COVID and the increase in loneliness amongst remote workers can be a tricky balancing act for recruiters and HR teams.

Whilst it is very unlikely all staff will be going back to the office full-time, businesses making plans to increase office time are best to develop clear and fair policies to avoid employee friction.

Business Strategy

When designing a strategy to get employees back to offices. Managers and HR advisors are best to consider aspects like;

  1. Increases in commuting costs
  2. Travel disruptions and strikes
  3. Increase in childcare costs
  4. Flexibility for personal schedules in family time, exercise classes or simple errands.

A balance should be made between employers’ and employees’ needs as ignoring either is likely to result in an unwelcomed response, and possible claims of discrimination arising.

New flexible working rights

From 6 April 2024, employees will be able to request flexible working from their first day in a new job, which can include requests for where they carry out their role. Careful consideration should be made to flexible working requests to avoid any policies which may lead to indirect discrimination claims.

What is the office for?

Forced changes are likely to cause friction. It is best to consider implementing return-to-office guidelines and policies in consultation with staff and to give people clarity on expectations.

Having clear goals for your return-to-office strategy is helpful when introducing changes to staff working patterns. We recommend instead of asking whether employees should return to the office, it may be better to explore what the benefits are of working in the office, with peers.

Tips to welcome staff back

Employers are noticing that with mixed emotions and outside pressures, some employees are reluctant to return to the office, whilst others are eagerly embracing returning to their office.

Here are a few examples of encouraging staff to come back into the office:

  • Offer in-person professional development
  • Set up in-person social and learning opportunities
  • Create meaningful team building activities
  • Re-decorate your work environment
  • Offer transport subsidies
  • Encourage use of EAP programmes

Mandating employees to return to the office can result in unhappiness, resignations, and overall reduced employee loyalty, so employers may be wise to consider a carrot approach (within reason).

Therefore it is important for employers to review their strategy carefully look at policies and workplace culture to manage a smooth transition to hybrid working.

We can help draft no-jargon hybrid policies to manage employees returning to office life.

For advice on legal and HR guidance please contact us on 0333 888 1360 or complete the enquiry form and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

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