Over the past year, a number of employers have mandated that employees return to the physical office, citing the need for in-person collaboration and social connection.
The demand begs the question — will employees, who are begrudgingly reintegrating long commutes and daycare drop-offs and pickups back into their workday, be as engaged and productive as they’ve been over the last couple of years?
Some employers have answered this question with a resounding “no.” Last June, Yelp Inc. announced it was adopting a remote working-first approach. In a corporate blog entry on the organization’s website, the company’s chief executive officer Jeremy Stoppelman acknowledged that bringing employees back to the office — even in a hybrid arrangement — burdens workers by requiring them to “live near an office, potentially driving up their housing costs and to endure unpaid time spent commuting.”
Stoppelman also noted internal polling by Yelp found a majority of employees said they’d prefer to work remotely most or all of the time (86 per cent) and that remote working has made them more effective (87 per cent). Another 93 per cent of employees and their managers reported they can meet their goals remotely.
Yelp isn’t the only organization seeing positive results from the switch to remote working during the course of the coronavirus pandemic. Best Buy Canada Ltd. decided to make its remote working model permanent for its 1,200 corporate office workers after a pulse survey found nearly all (96 per cent) of the company’s corporate employees felt they’re able to do their jobs as effectively — if not more effectively — working from home than when they were in the office full time.
Many employers that have mandated that employees return to the office have yet to address how they’ll help employees cope with another disruption to their personal lives. After melding flexibility into their workdays to accommodate personal appointments or family obligations, white-collar employees who shifted to working from home amid the pandemic had hoped to see a bright spot emerge from the health crisis in the form of a more malleable workplace of the future — one that recognizes them as whole people with full, complicated lives.
For employees returning to in-person work, having to pay more for childcare, commuting or housing to earn an income — sometimes well below what they may need to really thrive — is a tough pill to swallow. In light of that, employers should consider what benefits they can have on hand to help support their employees through the transition back to in-office working.
Offering financial benefits such as childcare subsidies or commuting benefits would go a long way to showing employees the company cares and recognizes that, for some, the return will mean increased costs to their monthly budget. Providing mental-health supports for employees and their families could also be the lifeline they need to readjust to an ever-changing workplace. And for companies working with a smaller budget, sometimes the little things — such as offering more vacation time for employees to spend making memories with their loved ones — can go a long way.
Rather than march employees back to the office in any capacity, employers should strive to walk beside them on that journey, recognizing the challenges that could arise along the way and endeavouring to provide the support employees need to remain engaged and productive in the future workplace — and that starts with a culture centred on employee well-being and inclusivity.