When companies announced plans to bring employees back to the office on some type of a regular basis after Labor Day, it sparked a flurry of media headlines:
“The return-to-office battle will resume after Labor Day.”
“Workers face pressure as top companies push post–Labor Day return to office.”
“Battle over return to office heats up as bosses lose patience.”
“Return-to-office deadline after Labor Day sets up showdown.”
Whether “battle” or “showdown” prove to be accurate or exaggerated descriptions of how things actually transpire remains to be seen.
Either way, those descriptions — and the stories they’re part of — reflect the reality that return-to-office plans can quickly cause employer-employee relations to become difficult at best and adversarial at worst. While either of these outcomes is problematic, the issue becomes even more toxic if it contributes to an overall deterioration of the relationship between a company and its people.
So, what can a company do? It begins with transparency. Regular communication and meaningful conversations with employees can go a long way in fostering understanding about the decision and alleviating some of the concerns.
Here’s what our firm did. We adopted a trial hybrid work-from-home program in February of this year and closely monitored key data points across the next several months. We determined in recent weeks that modifications were necessary.
While the flexibility and other benefits of the policy remain important, we saw a couple of trends emerge following the program’s implementation. We decided the best course of action was to bring people back to our offices four days a week beginning September 6.
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In communicating the revised policy to employees, we shared data points that led to our decision. Beyond our own results-oriented metrics, we also provided important context about factors beyond our control that impact our business and which employees might not have considered.
For example, we discussed how inflationary pressures caused our costs to rise by approximately 20-25%. This is important background information, as employees often don’t fully understand the external stresses that companies are under. Similarly, employees need to know what companies are doing in response (in our case, implementing price adjustments and updating our hybrid work policy).
We learn the most when we encourage our teams to share their experiences, so our leadership spent a lot of time over the past month listening to employees. We asked questions designed to foster a meaningful conversation: How are you feeling? What’s on your mind? How is your work-life balance? Are you still committed to the company?
I also shared in a companywide email my sincere belief in the value of the energy, knowledge and training that come from everyone working together in an office. Being together also provides a number of benefits to our business overall and to the professional growth and development of our employees. Going forward, we’ll focus more than ever on engaging with employees and demonstrating our commitment to their success.
The reality is, no policy about where and when work gets done — in-office, remote or hybrid — is going to make everyone happy. Employers know people have choices about where to work and should be prepared for at least some level of attrition because of their policies.
By regularly providing transparent communications and holding meaningful conversations, your company will be well positioned to garner the type of support and loyalty needed to keep and grow your employees.