4 Strategies for Navigating the Return to Office Era in Organizations

The pandemic forever changed the way we work and do business. Even now, several years later, organizations are still trying to figure out how to manage workers. This is the Return to Office (RTO) era.

Everywhere you see the battle between employees and employers over returning to the office. Organizations worldwide switched to remote work because of the pandemic. But now they want to switch back. Organizations value the way ideas, innovations and collaborations occur naturally in person. On the other hand, workers want to work from home permanently because of all the benefits it brings.

The HR challenge in 2020 was shifting entire workforces to working remotely. The struggle two or more years later is a positive return to work at the office. Up until now, some organizations haven’t solidified a plan for the return to the office. But now they’re getting serious.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to RTO, we have some great strategies to help organizations bring employees back to the office for work.

Embrace a Hybrid Work Model

As a compromise, many workplaces everywhere have embraced a hybrid work environment as a permanent strategy. This allows employees to work partly from home and partly in the office.

A hybrid work model has many benefits, such as:

  • Flexibility
  • A better work-life balance
  • Burnout mitigation
  • Increased productivity
  • More control over work hours

It also has its challenges, including:

  • Feeling less connected to other employees
  • Impaired collaboration and relationships
  • Disrupted work processes
  • Not having the right tools to be the most effective

Many workplaces report that the benefits outweigh the challenges that hybrid work brings. But with no standard way of working, the ambiguity and uncertainty have left many employees stressed.

The best way to move forward is to set clear expectations for workers as to schedules, completing work and communication methods. This sense of structure can help prevent ill feelings over favoritism and keep productivity on track while still providing flexible work solutions.

Also, HR can focus on rebuilding community with teams, as developing relationships in a hybrid workplace can be challenging. Working on proximity bias is also key, as many employees working from home are just as committed as those onsite.

Employees also need the right support and tools when they work from home, just like those working onsite. They need to be able to collaborate with fellow coworkers and managers in real-time. Using cloud-based tools and Zoom for sharing data and working together makes working in a hybrid workplace easier.

Enhance Communication and Collaboration

In the RTO era, investing in the right technology enhances collaboration and communication in a hybrid work environment. Even a decade ago, we would never have predicted office life would end up the way it is now.

Working together and communicating in a hybrid work environment can be challenging because of things like proximity bias, lack of connection to colleagues and the limitations working remotely brings. Today’s technology allows us to communicate and collaborate on projects in real time.

Tips for making tech work for the hybrid work world include:

  • Integrating project management tools and workflows to streamline communication and collaboration.
  • Upgrading remote communication tools like apps and video conferencing software.
  • Introducing software that specifically supports hybrid work models, such as hoteling software and office capacity management tools that allow employees to book rooms, desks, parking spaces, etc.
  • Upgrading any existing technology like software and tools that support decentralized ways of working, cloud computing and file and document management.
  • Upgrading or implementing new cyber security policies and protocols.
  • Brainstorming other ways to elevate the hybrid work experience for employees.

Also, schedule regular check-ins with employees to ensure everything is okay and help with any problems that arise. Tools that facilitate online communication can become difficult to follow. Being more intentional with communication can help facilitate the RTO.

Foster Flexibility and Agility

Flexibility is key in hybrid workplaces as it allows people to do their best work in their preferred environment and allows people to adjust to changes. And agility allows organizations to pivot and adapt quickly during times of chaos and ambiguity.

Flexibility and agility help organizations adapt and change operating models and organizational structures to alter the way they do business quickly. To promote flexibility and agility in the workplace, listen to employees and take action on what you hear. Small and frequent interactions are better than relying on annual employee feedback or surveys.

Consider offering flexible hours or condensing schedules from five eight-hour days to four ten-hour days. This flexibility allows employees to work at their most productive times and have more days off. And allowing employees to work remotely even a few days a week can provide a better work-life balance.

Building a high-trust work culture that allows flexibility can empower employees in problem-solving and decision-making. Knowing their managers trust them to get their jobs done instills confidence and motivates them.

Address Challenges and Mitigate Risks

One of the most common challenges of RTO is resistance to it.

Many workers have enjoyed the benefits of remote work for a while now and would rather quit than return to the office. A possible solution is to survey everyone in the organization to see how they feel about returning to work and then talk about it. Discuss the advantages of returning to work too.

Also, RTO means that it will be more difficult to balance work and home life again. To mitigate this, organizations can offer flexible work arrangements that allow employees to balance work and parenting responsibilities.

Plus, many workers face increased costs for food and transportation related to returning to the office. Inflation and recession have increased the cost of everything from groceries to clothes to gas. Consider what financial assistance you can offer employees. For example, salary loans or other employee assistance programs.

Key Takeaways

The RTO era has raised many employee-employer challenges as organizations begin solidifying plans for everyone to return to work. Many have embraced hybrid work environments to ease into working onsite again. But hybrid workplaces can become permanent solutions with benefits on both sides.

Enhancing communication and collaboration can make connecting with people easier and make everyone feel included. Fostering flexibility and agility in the workplace ensures your organization weathers turbulent times. And it also helps build relationships and connections.

By addressing challenges from the start, you can make RTO a positive experience instead of one that employees dread.

The RTO era has brought many challenges to organizations bringing employees back onsite. Read this post to learn strategies for navigating this return to work.
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CPS HR Consulting is a self-supporting public agency providing a full range of integrated HR solutions to government and nonprofit clients across the country.  Our strategic approach to increasing the effectiveness of human resources results in improved organizational performance for our clients.  We have a deep expertise and unmatched perspective in guiding our clients in the areas of organizational strategy, recruitment and selection, classification and compensation, and training and development.