Working at home, in pyjamas, with no traffic or squeezing into cramped public transport during rush hour have been some of the benefits homeworking employees have enjoyed*. Some businesses did start off with concerns about potential dips in work productivity and loss of culture if their workforce move to a homeworking setting, but many soon converted as they realised it brought forth more positives than negatives, encouraging organisations to incorporate homeworking into their long-term strategies post-pandemic.
Yet, a year on, we also understand that working completely from home is not for everyone, especially not under the current circumstances of social distancing. It’s no wonder that some people are looking forward to returning to on-site work. So, as restrictions are slowly eased, more companies are likely to start bringing employees back to the office.
As HR professionals prepare for their workforce to return to site, it’s important HR is aware of the motivation behind why people would be eager to do so to help create an easy transition back into the workplace.
So, what would employees be looking forward to back in the office?
1. Face-to-face interactions
Viral stories of videocall meeting disasters emphasise that video conferencing is not a perfect alternative to face-to-face interactions. We’re missing all the social/body language cues that help us gauge how to respond and communicate with others. Overuse of the technology has also made these virtual interactions a chore, causing ‘Zoom fatigue’, or something to be dreaded for some people, making it difficult to build connections or collaborate on projects effectively.
Returning to the office means that you get those ‘watercooler’ moments and impromptu conversations with colleagues back, which are extremely hard to replicate naturally online. Even something as simple as being able to have lunch together can positively impact the bonds between co-workers.
2. Losing the paranoia
How many times have you glanced at your own image during a video call, or worked a tad longer to show you’re not slacking? With news of redundancies and unemployment bombarding us every day, fewer interactions with others, and delayed (or even cancelled altogether!) performance conversations, it’s not surprising that employees may feel that their jobs are at risk. The controversial news of an increased uptake of remote monitoring software in some workplaces also doesn’t help alleviate these anxieties.
When working in the office, employees won’t have these extra pressures. They can feel at ease that their private space is not being judged through the webcam, and they have people around them to account for their presence at work. It’s also easier to raise concerns to managers in a quick 5–10-minute chat than booking a video call or sending an email.
3. Proper workspace
For some homeworkers, their ‘home office’ setup is not ideal for productive work. Throughout the year, we’ve heard stories of people using their ironing board or kitchen table as a desk, employees constantly being interrupted by children or housemates, or staff suffering from unreliable internet connections. Not only are these scenarios disruptive to work but using uncomfortable desk setups can cause negative impacts to physical wellbeing, such as back pain and eye strain.
On site, employees should have all the equipment they need, along with their own workspace. And resolving IT issues becomes a little easier. It’s also good for the business as they can more easily ensure employees are working in an environment that meets health and safety standards.
4. Work/home boundaries
The ‘always-on’ culture many workers experience in this digital world has been exacerbated by the current homeworking situation. As both private and work matters have been happening in one space, the lines have been further blurred. Employees are reading and responding to emails way outside of their usual working time and people are finding it hard to switch off from work after hours and vice versa.
Going to a different physical location such as the office for work helps create distance – physically and mentally – between private and work lives.
5. Workplace flexibility
But while many people do miss their workplace, it doesn’t mean that they just want one or the other. Now that we know homeworking is possible for many employees and have succeeded in doing so without major dips in motivation and productivity, there are now increased expectations of being able to have the flexibility to work at home at least part of the time.
Companies with roles that offer remote work increased by 190% when COVID-19 began and 70% of employees now prefer having a choice of both working at home and at the office in the long-term.** So, if you’ve not done so yet, it might be time to consider how you can incorporate that into your back-to-office strategy.
6. Office perks
While we know office perks, like free snacks or a playroom, are not as important as empathetic leadership or an employer’s care for their staff’s wellbeing, they are still enjoyable. As offices sat empty while employees worked from home, it wasn’t uncommon for some of us to reminisce about those free Tuesday treats or those failed attempts at beating the office’s foosball champion.
It’s important that when it’s time to reassess the value of office perks like these, employers take on staff feedback to understand how meaningful they might actually be.
There are various things to weigh up when planning how to bring employees back to the office. Using your HR system to distribute necessary documents to staff, like company policies or flexible work request forms, send out urgent announcements, and update key workforce data, can help make it easier to complete tasks around welcoming staff back to the office.