Return to office 2022: What did we learn from last year?

One of the biggest challenges that organisations are facing in 2022 is the return to office following government guidance recommended that employees work remotely if possible in response to the spread of the Omicron variant in late 2021.

Now that work from home guidance has been lifted, employers need to consider how they approach the creation of a hybrid model, mixing home and office-based working. Here, we go through some of the key learnings from last year and discuss key success factors for a second return to office in 2022.

Communication is still key

The companies that enjoyed the most successful return to office drives last year were without a doubt those that communicated their plans well. If you are a line manager persuading your team to come into the office for the first time in a few months, it is imperative to treat each one as an individual and communicate with them as such. Lucy Spencer, Senior HR Business Partner at PageGroup, says:

lucy spencer quote on returning to the office

It is also important to set reasonable expectations. Instead of just announcing a date when the new system will come into effect, consider phasing in office days slowly. You might suggest that your workers come in for one day per week for a several weeks, before upping this to two days per week, and so on. This will ensure that employees are able to assimilate to your vision and work in a way that feels consistent as time goes on.

Sell the benefits

You shouldn’t just assume that your workers are already bought in to the idea of returning to the office. The advantages may be obvious to you, but they might not be to others, especially those office workers that have benefitted from remote work since the onset of the pandemic. The last thing you want is for the invitation to seem like a command. Instead, ensure that your workers are happy to return to the office by highlighting the benefits they will enjoy by doing so.

First and foremost, we would recommend that you retain some form of hybrid working, and reassure people that they will still have the associated perks. Kelly Wilson, Talent and Development Manager at PageGroup comments:

Kelly Wilson quote on returning to the office

In a post-Covid world, an office should be more than a location for employees to work as individuals. Think about ways to reformat and reconfigure your office to facilitate cooperation: this could mean creating informal breakout areas, establishing a culture of teamwork, or enabling a stronger social side to the office.

Make returning to the office exciting!

In 2021, workers across the country discovered the perfect balance that hybrid working can offer, and many were disappointed to lose this in Q4 of 2021. As offices reopen in 2022, organisations will have the opportunity to offer that balance to their employees once again.

People are social animals, and the reintroduction of the office means the reestablishment of the camaraderie which is so easily lost with totally remote working. Once in the office again, many employees will enjoy the opportunity to physically meet, work, and socialise with people who they may have only met virtually until now.

If handled well, the process can absolutely feel exciting. After all, the novelty of remote working is largely gone – no longer the ‘new normal’ but the ‘old normal’. Coming into office should feel like a breath of fresh air, a chance to shake up your schedule and shake off the ‘Microsoft Teams fatigue’ that so many employees have experienced.

Moreover, the constant self-motivation required by remote working can take its toll on workers' mental health, and returning to an office can effectively mitigate this. A team based together in an office will tend to motivate one another far more effectively and sustainably – this is a huge benefit of hybrid working which you should be sure to emphasise to your teams. Kelly notes that:

Kelly Wilson quote on returning to the office

Ultimately, the inclusion of an office space in a hybrid working model generates better work, more efficiently, and from a happier workforce. If you communicate that well, you won’t be dragging people back to the office, but opening the door to grateful co-workers.

At Michael Page, we regularly assist our clients with the challenges of talent acquisition and management in a hybrid workplace. To arrange a call with one of our expert consultants, get in touch here. Or, browse related articles here.

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