The cat is out of the bag.
Millions of professionals all over the world have not only seen the benefits of remote work, but they’ve embraced them. Thousands of companies closed their offices entirely during the COVID-19 pandemic, and people quickly became accustomed to working from home, enjoying the lack of commute and the flexibility it allows.
Even now, only nine percent of people surveyed by Gallup prefer to work entirely on-site. So as things settle into a new normal, companies are discovering more and more return-to-office challenges. HR leaders are wrestling with how to convince people to come back—and many companies have decided to go permanently hybrid.
As we adapt to this new world of work, return-to-office questions are becoming more nuanced and harder to solve.
With hybrid work structures here to stay, here are the five biggest challenges most companies are experiencing and how to overcome them.
Challenge #1: People just don’t want to come to the office
First up, we have the biggest challenge companies face today: People simply don’t want to return to the office. Many have established fully outfitted home offices that are comfortable and customized to their specific needs and working patterns. They’re settled, they’re used to it, and—unsurprisingly—they simply don’t want to change.
So what can you do about it?
Start by thinking about what you can offer at the office that people can’t get at home. Remember that a personalized approach tailored to each team will likely have the best results. Survey your people to understand what they’d like to see in your return-to-office plan so you can shape your strategy around their needs and requests. This can dramatically increase your chances of success.
Challenge #2: Resistance to long commutes
Tolerance for long and stressful commutes is at an all-time low. People just don’t want to bury their face in a stranger’s armpit or drive for hours anymore. And thanks to remote work, they’re now accustomed to an almost non-existent travel period.
At the same time, many professionals argue that commuting cuts down on productive working time—especially when people can perform so many functions from home.
The solution? Consider including the commute as part of the paid workday to encourage people to come in. Giving them flexibility over the days and hours they travel will also help them to avoid peak times and open up a better commuting experience.
Challenge #3: A lack of separation between work time and personal time
While working remotely has its perks, it breaks down the divide between work and play for many people. Without travel time and a clear separation between home and office, people struggle to switch off and carry work into evenings and weekends.
It’s important that managers and C-levels lead by example: Take vacation days and work only within clearly defined work hours, whether it’s a work-from-home or work-from-office day. Emphasizing the need to take breaks and reset helps protect your teams’ mental health and reduce burnout rates. In exchange, you’ll save money and time spent on recruiting and onboarding replacement professionals.
Challenge #4: Lower creativity rates
Different people thrive creatively in different environments. Some people’s creativity flourishes in team settings where they can have face-to-face discussions and kick ideas around by the coffee maker. Without social interactions and changes of scenery to fuel their creativity, these people lose the ability to generate powerful ideas and insights.
Others thrive creatively in quiet, isolated environments. Switching back and forth between the two can contribute to burnout for both types of people.
It’s crucial to find a balance and structure a flexible (and customized) hybrid work policy that provides creative opportunities for all kinds of creative minds.
Recommended For Further Reading
Challenge #5: Stifled relationship building
Strong relationships between teammates forge the foundations of successful businesses. Distance affects these relationships, and it’s harder for people to build trusting and long-lasting bonds in remote and hybrid work settings. It’s also easy for people to feel lonely or isolated when they don’t regularly meet in an office.
The strength of your teams relies on these relationships, and the key to building and maintaining them—in any context—is connection. This, in turn, depends on frequent inter- and intra-team communication.
How can you address this? Take advantage of the latest tools available: Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet allow you to create channels and groups that support clear and regular communication. Ultimately, these tools encourage relationship building within and across teams. Using them regularly to connect reinforces a consistent work culture that helps teams collaborate, grow, and thrive.
Adjusting is never easy, but good communication is key
Whatever structure you work within, creating a return-to-office company policy will help guide your people and organization towards better choices that address each of these challenges.
The key to positive outcomes is listening: understanding what your teams want and exploring the interplay between challenges faced at the individual and company levels. Now more than ever, HR leaders must emphasize flexibility, frequent communication, and creative, agile work structures that encourage people to connect and thrive.