Top Tips for a Productive Return to Office

Now that Covid restrictions are going away, business owners have every right to say whether employees will work in the office or continue to work remotely. There have been some pretty outspoken CEOs saying that everyone needs to return ASAP, and there have been some pretty outspoken employees who are saying no way, no how.

And who is in the middle? HR, of course. HR fights to keep the business profitable and the employees productive and engaged, and happy. Sometimes senior leadership can only see the value of people in seats, and sometimes employees can’t see anything else but their need to work from home in their pajamas. HR needs to help everyone see the best and most productive middle ground. Here are some tips to get started.

Listen to YOUR employees.

It’s easy to turn to social media and see what people are saying. But, keep in mind that Twitter doesn’t represent the average person, let alone your employees. Some people cannot wait to get back to the office. Some people will quit rather than commute again. And most people? They are somewhere in the middle.

But you won’t know if you don’t listen to your employees when making decisions about if/when to return to the office and at what capacity. You won’t know how comfortable or uncomfortable your employees are. You can Google all you want, but that won’t tell you what your employees feel.

It may be that they are dying to get back to the office. It may be that everyone feels like a hybrid situation is best. Or, it may be that no one can agree and some people want to be back, some people want to be at home, and there is no one size fits all solution. 

All of that is okay. You can work with that information. But you have to know what it is first.

Employers need to be flexible.

Let’s take a scenario where your CEO mimics Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, who said, "By Labor Day, I'll be very disappointed if people haven't found their way into the office, and then we'll have a different kind of conversation.” That is going to drive some people away.

You will need to present information to your CEO about why that type of policy will or won’t work for your business. Make sure you come armed with data--how was productivity and engagement when people worked from home? If it was down, your CEO is probably correct--people need to be back in the office. If it was up, you could make a strong argument that working remote works for your company.

The reality is, it’s likely that working from home worked for some people, and not so well for others. The important thing is to look at solutions with flexibility in mind.

It may make sense to have the customer service team all working from home while the marketing team comes into the office. 

It may make sense to have everyone work two days from home and three in the office.

It may make sense for people to set their own schedules based on how well they perform in different places.

For a Human Resources leader, the critical thing is to understand the reality and not the hype. Some people should never, ever work from home--even if they want to--because they are not productive. Some people should never, ever, work from the office--even if they want to--because they are ten times as effective from home.

It’s all about balancing business needs with employee desires. And remember, turnover is skyrocketing--so much that it’s been dubbed the “Great Resignation.” If you want to keep your employees, you need to listen to what they want and be flexible.

Cautions on working from home.

When the CDC told everyone to go home and work (if it were at all possible), everyone did so without much thought. Now that things are a bit calmer, the taxman cometh. If your office is in one state and your employees are working exclusively from home in another state, you need to make sure everything is set up legally for that. Additionally, they become subject to the rules of their home state, not where your office is. In a lot of states, that’s fine. If your accountant packed up and moved from Iowa to California, hold onto your hat: You’re in for a big surprise. California employment laws are some of the most complicated in the nation.

As much as your employees may want to work from home, it may not be practical to register the business in a different state. 

You can consider all these things as you create a new policy and bridge that gap between CEO and junior analysts. Doing what’s right for the employees and the business can be a bit complicated, but with a little bit of listening and a little bit of flexibility, you’ll be on your way. 

Suzanne Lucas, The Evil HR Lady

Author: Suzanne Lucas, The Evil HR Lady

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