After many knowledge, desk-bound employees spent more than two years working from home, the reintroduction to an office environment is being met with varying degrees of acceptance, from excitement to hesitancy.
How do you make an office space worth commuting to? Our telecommunications company has been hybrid (60% in-person, 40% remote) since the beginning, and we’ve seen what works, what doesn’t work, and where leaders should be allocating funds. And it goes without saying that healthy boundaries are of the utmost importance, as everyone’s comfort levels vary and people’s work-life balance priorities have shifted.
With that in mind, I’ve outlined a few areas I would focus on to make an office not just acceptable to commute to—but also turns it into a place that people find value in and are excited about.
Make your tools seamless to use
We all rearranged our homes to accommodate remote work in the past two years. Closets became offices, garages became gyms—the creativity that went into multipurpose setups amazes me.
Teams are now used to their remote work environments and invested in at-home setups, with all their clever new accommodations. Our office spaces should emulate this. For myself, I have two laptops, an iPad, and various chargers. Instead of carrying these pieces of equipment from my home to the office, I made the setup the same at each location. This step ensures that I can get right to work once I sit down at a desk, whether I’m at home or at the office, and helps me surpass arranging things daily in both places each day.
Replicating at-home setups at the office is a gesture that demonstrates to workers their remote offices have value and, as a manager, you want to make them as comfortable as possible.
Go further in showing you care by allowing your employees to customize their workspaces. And ask them what they need to be successful, where they want to be situated, and how you can make each space wholly theirs. If you’re implementing “hot desking”– where employees don’t have a dedicated desk and use whatever space is open when they’re in the office–make sure every desk is equipped with necessary items like monitors, chargers, and adapters.
This becomes harder for big companies, but they can still put in the time to gut check what everyone needs, whether through a survey or individual inquiries.
Lead with transparency
I don’t have a preference for where my team does their work, as long as it’s getting done, but leaders who prefer that employees meet in person must incentivize them to come back to an office versus mandating them. We’ve all heard of the Great Resignation, and many workers are looking for better opportunities and more ownership of their futures. We know that employees want flexibility, and it would be unfair to have different requirements for various employees based on location alone.
We need transparency about what’s going on in the office so those who work remotely can participate or choose to commute on that day. Never make remote workers feel excluded from anything, whether that’s a team lunch, an all-hands meeting, or any sort of announcements. Learning how to run equitable hybrid meetings where remote participants feel just as included as the people in the room is another key consideration. Every office gathering space must have the proper technology to pull remote team members into the conversation, too.
Let workers know about regularly scheduled activities in advance so folks can plan and join if they’d like. This gives them time to make childcare or transportation arrangements, and also drives greater employee engagement and the intentional development of company culture.
Whether you are encouraging folks to come in a few days each week or setting up a company shared calendar, provide information so people can make purposeful decisions that are right for them.
Allowing people to be fully remote should always be an option. When they’re sick, need to take care of loved ones, or relocate to a new city, employees should feel empowered to remain away from the office. Employees have adjusted and proven their ability to work while physically apart from colleagues; by instituting a company-wide promise they can work from anywhere, you establish mutual respect and trust. I recognize that my employees know what’s best for them, and it’s our job to create a clear path so they can thrive in their work environments (whatever that may look like) and roles.
For most companies, 100% of team members will never be in the office 100% of the time again. Many people even found that for individual “deep work,” they are actually more productive when they’re not in an office. A hybrid option allows people to tap into the best of both worlds.
This is the time to stay away from strict policies and bold predictions—in today’s job market, employees are in the driver’s seat, and we should be mindful and listen.
We are all in the process of reimagining what it means to be a hybrid team, and it should be an important and thoughtful investment. It could be the difference between talent that sticks around or a great hire who’s suddenly out the door.
Frank Weishaupt is the CEO of Owl Labs, a collaborative tech company revolutionizing how organizations of all sizes communicate. Owl Labs is a pioneer in the work-from-anywhere movement, through its work developing the award-winning Meeting Owl Pro.