As 2024 dawns, we’re firmly in a post-pandemic working world. But just because things are somewhat back to normal doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is happy about it. After all, the trade-offs that come with working from the office like prioritizing what leaders like to call “company culture” but sacrificing personal flexibility is a major shift for folks who’ve spent several years working from home.

Consider the results of an Angus Reid survey conducted midway through 2023, which asked a group of employees who currently worked remotely at least some of the time what they’d do if their employer ordered them back in-office full-time: One third said they’d happily comply, another third said they’d do it but consider looking for another job – and 21% said they’d probably quit almost immediately if this happened to them.

This presents a real dilemma for employers who do value having their employees in office, but also care about their satisfaction and well-being. How do you create an in-office experience that people will not just tolerate, but that they actually enjoy, and even see as a “perk” of their role? We asked the experts for ways employers can ensure workers will enjoy coming into the office.

Revamp your office design to reflect the new focus on choice and collaboration
During the pandemic, Canadians could choose their workplace environment – whether it be their kitchen, living room or a coffee shop. “That’s not to say workplaces need to recreate a residential environment,” explains Greg Wooster, vice-president of workplace strategy and design at Vancouver-based interior design firm Aura Office. “But, we have to provide similar choices and similar flexibility.”

He adds that, rather than working from cubicles, unstructured work lounges that might also serve as the staff break room or kitchen area could offer a smoother transition. Meeting rooms and less formal spaces that allow for spontaneous interaction and collaboration can also make the in-office experience more productive.

Consider improving amenities and in-office perks
Tech giants are well known for pioneering workplace trends like free corporate catering and sprawling buffets. For companies with smaller budgets and teams, Mr. Wooster says even a stocked pantry or fridge can make going into the office a bit more appealing.

“One of the things that our office has done specifically is we engage with an offsite caterer, and we’re allowed to order lunch in on the company one day a week,” he says, adding that these incentives are to make the in-office experience either comparable or better than working from home. Asking your staff what their favourite snacks and beverages are can also make them feel more included.

Be intentional about how mandatory time in the office is spent
Like most corporate offices, Toronto-based HR software maker Humi transitioned to operate entirely remotely at the onset of the pandemic. Courtney Lee, director of people & talent at the tech firm, explains that when restrictions began to lift, Humi moved to a remote-first model while maintaining a physical office in Toronto.

Because Humi doesn’t require people to come into the office weekly, Ms. Lee explains that Humi strives to be intentional about the times the company requires its staff to meet in-person. For example, Humi conducted 18 team development days last year where cross-functional teams could meet each other in person. Prior to a team development day, a lot of teams might not have met in person, Ms. Lee says, especially if those folks are located outside of Toronto.

“The feedback that we get after these types of collaboration days is the sense of connectivity to their peers and their colleagues is higher,” Ms. Lee says. For example, interpersonal quirks that you can’t always pick up on a video call are easier to understand after spending some in-person time with your co-workers.

For companies looking to do something similar, Ms. Lee suggests that conducting engagement or ad hoc pulse surveys can help workplace leaders set a clear purpose or goals for a team development day. “It’s great to get people together, but it costs a lot of money if you’re not all local, so you want to walk away feeling like that was a good use of time and resources.”

Source ideas from your staff
Conducting surveys can clue companies into what their workers might want out of their workplace experience. At Humi, one of their workers is a DJ and hosts a recurring live music session at the office. Another person is passionate about mindfulness and leads meditation sessions at Humi, Ms. Lee adds.

“It doesn’t all have to come from top of house: The people who work for you are probably going to have some of the best ideas, so the more that you can source some feedback from your employees, the better your programs are going to be,” she says.

Source: Globe and Mail