Returning to the Office? 5 Tips for a Smooth Transition

As we get further away from 2020 and the pandemic conditions that made full-time remote work crucial, more startup leaders are wondering how to create a balanced return-to-office (RTO) policy that meets company and employee needs. If you’ve been following the headlines, you know many companies now require employees to work on-site again. This comes with polarizing opinions on if this is best for productivity and employee satisfaction.

Hybrid appears to be the most common work arrangement, finding a middle ground to full in-office or remote work styles. In a recent survey of 800 companies, 91% said they planned to bring employees back to the office at least once a month this year. Meanwhile, 75% said they’ll require employees to work on-site weekly. And we’re seeing evidence of that with our own startup clients. Those who have an RTO policy typically require employees to work on-site 2 to 3 days a week.

Based on survey results, the overall consensus is that employers are eager for time to collaborate with colleagues in person. But not all workers are happy about returning to the office. As employee pushback on RTO policies at tech giants like Google and Amazon indicate, companies of all sizes should prepare for challenges as they bring employees back on-site.

If you’re a startup leader planning on dialing back remote work arrangements, read on for tips and considerations to help ease the transition for your employees.

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5 Tips for an Effective RTO Policy

Knowing returning to the office is a controversial topic, take the following steps to create a plan that works best for your employees and company culture before you hit send on your RTO announcement.

#1. Clarify Why You’re Returning to the Office

The number one question clients ask us about RTO is, “What’s everyone else doing?” While it’s important to have a pulse on the competition, it’s arguably more important to ask, “Why are we bringing employees back?”

For instance, do you think it will improve productivity? Will it strengthen employee relationships and connectivity to your mission and vision? Or are you just following the lead of your competitors?

Understanding and getting leadership alignment on your “why” will help you figure out which employees to bring back to the office, what kind of support and policies to have in place, and better communicate the shift to employees.

#2. Bring Employees into the Planning Process

In a recent Gartner survey, 48% of employees said their company’s RTO mandates prioritize what leaders want versus what employees need to do good work. While it’s impossible to know what drove those employees’ perceptions of their employers, it’s safe to assume that workers will feel better about RTO if they have an opportunity to shape the policy.

An easy first step: Send a survey regarding your future return to office policy with open-ended questions instead of multiple choice. Women and millennials are among the greatest flight risk when strict RTO policies are implemented.

Providing the opportunity for people to share their honest opinions about how RTO policies affect them signals to employees that you care about their opinions. It shows that you’re exploring options rather than making a decision solely based on leadership’s vote. Follow up by sharing results and explain how your company will make its final decision, using the results to guide the policy

#3. Design for Clarity

When it comes to your RTO policies, don’t leave room for guesswork. To prevent confusion and anger among employees, create precise and documented rules.

Here are some points that must be clearly stated and defined:

  • Which employees are required to work on-site? (Is it based on roles or distance of their homes to the office?)
  • How often must they work on-site?
  • Are they required to come in on specific days of the week or can they choose?
  • Are employees required to work a full eight hours or a full shift on-site?
  • Which employees are exempt from RTO?

#4. Offer Commute-Worthy Perks

Free lunches were once a novel in-office benefit, but today’s employees expect bigger incentives. The Wall Street Journal reported that some companies are enticing employees back to the office with free haircuts, clothing rental subscriptions, and even a slide connecting floors.

If you’re looking for a more practical and cost-effective route, consider things like training and education events, all-hands meetings, and opportunities for face time with executives. People get excited about having in-person conversations with leadership — especially if they’ve previously only met virtually. This seems especially true for men ages 35 to 44, who are more likely than women to say working from the office offers more visibility to senior leaders and improved job satisfaction.

#5. Get Your People Managers in Sync

Once you’ve decided on who you want to bring back to the office and how often, it’s up to your people managers to make employees feel good about working on-site. Much of that is about their consistent enforcement of policies.

You don’t want a situation where one manager allows employees to choose which days to come in and to leave after a few hours, while another requires their team to come in on specific days for a full eight hours. Understandably, those contrasting policies could lead to tension among workers who perceive unfairness. It’s possible that some workers would even consider the inconsistency as a form of quiet firing — a blanket term for practices where companies or managers create work conditions that prompt employees to resign. Quiet firing is often unintentional, but can lead to low company morale and high employee turnover.

Ultimately, Your RTO Policy Can’t Please Everyone

Quiet firing aside, no matter how well considered an RTO policy, be prepared for some employees to quit for a variety of reasons.

Some people have a strong preference for remote work. Twenty-nine percent of workers who want to work from home said they’d quit if their employers don’t change their RTO policy, while 22% said they’d take a salary cut to work from home more often.

Many quit because they can’t afford to give up the flexibility that remote work gives them to care for children or loved ones. For example, 38% of mothers with young children say they would have had to quit or reduce their hours if they didn’t have flexibility.

RTO Policies May Evolve

As you balance pleasing leadership and keeping workers happy, the bottom line is that your RTO policy shouldn’t remain static. Just as you evaluate your compensation and benefits plan each year to make sure they’re still right for your company, do the same with your work arrangement policies to see if they still support business needs and worker preferences.

A Partner That Guides Your Return to Office Policy and Beyond

When it comes to creating policies around sensitive topics like RTO, having the right partner by your side that understands your mission and company goals makes a world of difference. Whether you need advice about bringing employees back to the office; help with comp and benefits; or outsourced HR, payroll, and compliance, explore Sequoia One. We’re a PEO proven to help VC-backed companies win top talent and scale smartly, all while helping with HR processes that please your people and streamline leaderships’ workloads.’

As a tenured PEO HR Business Partner, Gracie has built trusted relationships with her clients, ensuring they are compliant and educated on current employment laws and requirements throughout a dispersed workforce. Gracie supports her clients with their strategic business initiatives through best practices and expert knowledge and strives to make an impact on the future growth and success of their organization, ultimately gaining a competitive advantage within their market and industry. In her free time, Gracie will almost always be found outdoors, from her kid’s sports games, fishing, golfing with her friends, relaxing at the beach, and going to as many Padres games as possible.

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