September 6, 2023 – The debate between employees and employers regarding a return to the office continues. Recently, however, we’ve seen more leaders across various sectors initiate the call to return to the office in what appears to be a shifting of the tides. Whether fully remote, hybrid, or in-office, the end goal of a company is the same: putting forward the best work to advance its employees and organization. But with increased economic concerns, the stakes undoubtedly feel higher—and executives can feel the heat.
Since sending employees home at the start of the pandemic, companies have engaged in an ongoing game of tug of war trying to get them back. “Throughout the previous two years, trends such as the Great Resignation have reshaped traditional workplace norms, providing employees with greater power regarding flexibility and where they’re allowed to work,” said a recent report from Executives Unlimited. “Yet, amidst recession worries, the tides are beginning to change as more and more leaders are turning their backs on a fully-remote work model—and can we blame them?”
If the corporate world teaches us anything, it’s that work is social. “When teams are together and working on solving issues at hand collaboratively, there is a sense of connection and togetherness that is poorly replicated over a screen,” said the study. “When this connection is lost, it opens the door for further issues regarding productivity, employee retention, and a company’s overall culture.”
When Rather Than Where
Until recently, employees have successfully used shifting trends in the market to demand increased flexibility regarding remote positions. According to surveys, however, employees seem to favor flexibility in when they work rather than where, says Executives Unlimited. And with offices across the country’s top metropolitan areas remaining less than half full compared to pre-pandemic numbers, leaders can use this to their advantage.
“Ask a hundred people what the future of the office should be, and you’ll likely get a hundred different answers,” said the report. “Since 2020, much of the debate regarding remote work has (understandably) been on whether we are more productive in the office or at home. However, we believe the more important question is: Can organizations keep their staff and clients engaged long-term without any in-person interactions? In short, they can’t.”
When employees are spread apart, it’s challenging to create interpersonal connections among colleagues that drive progress and innovation. It’s essential to view the return to the office for what it is: a time to reconnect and collaborate ahead of the unknown. “In truth, flexibility must be a two-way street,” said Executives Unlimited. “Successful organizations will be those who work with their teams to build a middle ground that provides the flexibility that employees seek, but also emphasizes the importance of in-person collaboration. For employees, this means giving as much as they receive.”
Tomilee Tilley founded Executives Unlimited in 2001 and today serves as a coach and mentor to her firm, as well as their clients. As an advisor to her clients, she helps companies define how they envision their goals, and examines all aspects of her client company’s operations, laying the groundwork for a successful search process.
She leads the Executives Unlimited team using her extensive skills to advise companies in qualifying, selecting, and engaging executives. Ms. Tilley Gill specializes in working with entrepreneur founders and family-owned businesses. She possesses expertise in a variety of industries and clients ranging from entrepreneurial middle market companies to PE firms to billion-dollar multinational corporations, publicly and privately held, including non-profits.
As the Great Resignation has shown, disconnected employees have no issue cutting ties and switching employers in mass. And although more and more companies are reverting to in-person workspaces, many organizations are still operating on a remote-based model. “So, if bringing employees into the office is the goal, what can leaders do to ensure their teams remain intact? It begins by having clear intentions,” said Executives Unlimited.
Have a Plan
Before filling in any empty desks in the office, leaders must have a plan in place regarding what they wish to accomplish by bringing employees back. “For example, it’s easy for companies to cite culture and camaraderie issues as the catalyst for returning to an in-person workplace,” said the report. “But, if no substantial work is done to rectify these issues within the office and employees are expected to sit in a blocked-off cubicle, any return efforts may likely do more harm than good.”
Understanding the office’s role in an organization and having clear intentions provides employees with transparency that can influence positive culture. “If employees are called back to increase collaboration, the office must reflect that,” said the study. “Implementing changes such as utilizing conference rooms weekly, open floor plans, and team-building events are all positive methods of improving interpersonal work connections.”
Focusing on the team-building nature of the office space can also help eliminate issues regarding quiet quitting and productivity. When employees feel valued in the workplace, it’s easier for them to put in more effort than employees who feel stagnated. “As leaders, it’s important to provide opportunities for teams to advance their skills and, in turn, their overall careers,” said Executives Unlimited. “All-in-all, implementing clear in-person strategies that appeal to employees and a company’s overall goals will help ease resistance when asking employees to return to the office.”
Related: Creating Purpose in the Workplace
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media