How to Help Employees Reconnect in the Return to the Office

The last three years have been a rollercoaster ride for HR staff trying to look out for their team’s wellbeing. First, we had the unprecedented, colossal shift to remote working which nobody could have predicted or prepared for. Now, just over three years later, the reverse is happening. Workers are moving back to the office, many of whom have never met their colleagues if they moved companies during the pandemic.

To make matters even more complicated, this move is causing new divides between employers and employees. More than a third of UK workers have said they would quit their current job if forced to go back to the office full-time. Plus, the share of job postings for remote work has dropped to just 11%, but those roles received 22% of applications in February this year.

Having proven that they can work from anywhere, how can employers make it so that the office is a place where employees want to work?

Let’s discuss…

Work colleagues walking up office stairs chatting and smiling together.


Understand the Disconnect

In order to better appeal to employees, you need to understand what it is they actually want. There’s evidence to suggest that employers are not making accurate assumptions.

For example, a McKinsey study revealed that many employers put ‘The Great Resignation’ down to inadequate compensation, remote work, development opportunities, or simply better job prospects. Whereas workers were not rating these reasons as highly on the scale of importance. On the flipside, feeling valued, having a sense of belonging, and having caring, trusting teammates were revealed to be the main motivators for workers seeking other opportunities.

A Venn diagram depicting "Why employers think people are resigning" (inadequate compensation, wanting remote work, not enough development opportunities) against "Why employees are resigning" (not feeling valued, no sense of belonging, wanting caring, trusting teammates). The only overlap is "work-life balance".

In order to bridge this disconnect in your own workplace, you need to reach out and ask your colleagues what they want. Put out an employee survey and find out for yourself. Only then can you start building a re-engagement strategy.


Make The Office More Than Just a Place to Work

While the specifics of what your team are looking for will vary business to business, one thing is clear. The office needs to become more than just a different location to work from. If employees can work from home (or anywhere with an internet connection!) there needs to be something at the office that they can’t get elsewhere.

Woman sat crossed leg on a bed using a laptop.

The obvious answer is to focus on the in-person nature of office work. Research from Unispace tells us that, even Gen Z workers, the most digitally savvy generation of workers yet, feel disconnected from their peers in a virtual work arrangement. The same report suggests that 80% of younger workers would be tempted back to the office with the opportunity of in-person training.

You should also ensure your employee survey covers questions about the physicality of the office. Access to the outdoors, dedicated areas for different work styles, and a less crowded space are all ways to make your office more appealing.


Create Shared Experiences

One of the most effective ways to build strong connections between people is through shared experiences – the more eventful the better. Researchers on the subject say, "we suggest that extraordinary experiences foster feelings of closeness because they direct unacquainted individuals' attention toward the extraordinariness of the experience and away from the discomfort of initial interactions."

Plan team events that transcend the normal, uninspiring corporate events. Adventurous activities like a group hike, or something out of the ordinary like axe throwing, are some good examples. Alternatively, you could add in an element of light competition, such as a fitness challenge.

A quote which reads: "We suggest that extraordinary experiences foster feelings of closeness because they direct unacquainted individuals' attention toward the extraordinariness of the experience and away from the discomfort of initial interactions".

In the best-case scenario, you’d be able to use these events as a way to celebrate your colleagues. Remember that feeling valued is another motivator for workers. Relate these events to your company values so that you reinforce your company culture.


Key Takeaway

Your employees should be at the centre of any engagement strategy. Your bosses might be concerned about wasted office space, but they cannot afford to damage relationships by forcing people back. Seek to understand what truly motivates your team and show them that you are listening to their concerns.


For more ideas on how to support your team, read our blogs on how to appreciate your employees and how to look out for their mental health.

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