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RTO: Doing It the Inclusive Way

Kanarys Staff


As the world continues to navigate the ongoing pandemic, many companies are grappling with the decision of whether or not to bring employees back to the office. While some employees may be eager to return to a more traditional work environment, remote work has and continues to change the nature of work itself. So, how can employers encourage their employees to return to the office in a way that is inclusive and accommodating to all?

1. Communicate the benefits from being in the office.

The first step to encouraging employees to return to the office is to communicate transparently about the company's plans and priorities. While employers have been clear and even adamant about why they are asking employees to return to the office, what’s been missing is the “why”. Buzzwords like “productivity” may resonate with leaders, but not necessarily with employees who feel they’ve gone above and beyond (which they have). Instead, employers need to focus on communicating that the value of the office is in the people, not the place. For example, human interactions are important from a team perspective, but they’re also important for training and career advancement. And, more importantly, these provide yet additional reasons for building out professional development initiatives By being upfront and honest, employers can build trust and help employees feel more comfortable with the transition.

2. Offer flexibility.

While some employees may be eager to return to the office full-time, others may prefer a more hybrid approach or may need accommodations due to personal circumstances. Depending on the position, the role, and the maturity of individual employees, the decision behind remote and in-person is often not an either/or proposition. Child care is a prime example of the impact on the workforce. Approximately 4.5 million Americans remained unemployed in January because they were caring for children not in school or daycare. Employers should be open to offering flexible work arrangements that take into account individual needs and preferences. This may include options such as staggered work schedules, remote work, or a combination of both.

3. Prioritize employee well-being.

As employers make plans to bring employees back to the office, it's important to prioritize employee well-being. While COVID and safety were the primary drivers during the pandemic, the focus now needs to be around the mental and emotional toll related to the transition back to the office. RTO mandates can often feel very transactional with expectations that employees can simply ‘flip a mental switch’ and show up at the office. Unfortunately, with many having worked in a remote or hybrid for the better part of three years, that transition can be more difficult. Added stress from commutes, renewed challenges maintaining work-life balance, insecurities around a sense of control and autonomy are just some of the issues the workforce continues to grapple with. Employers can offer resources such as counseling or mental health support, and prioritize work-life balance to help employees feel supported and valued.

4. Foster a sense of community.

One of the benefits of working in an office environment is the sense of community and connection with colleagues. How companies approach fostering this environment can make all the difference. For example, providing lunch in a social environment may help, but sandwiches that people take back to their cubicles probably won’t help. Employers should prioritize fostering this sense of community, even as they implement new safety protocols and flexible work arrangements. This may include regular team-building activities, opportunities for socializing and networking, and creating a culture of inclusivity and respect.

5. Lead by example.

Finally, it's important for employers to lead by example when it comes to returning to the office. If employees are returning to the office, while managers remain working remotely, that doesn’t provide a strong “we’re in this together” culture. Implementing policies that are consistent, and show empathy with an understanding of employees' concerns. More broadly, establishing and reinforcing a culture open to feedback, active discussions and suggestions for improvement is more important than ever for leadership. By modeling the behavior they expect from their employees, employers can build trust and create a positive work environment for everyone.

Bringing employees back to the office is a complex process that requires careful planning and consideration. By communiating transparently, offering flexibility, prioritizing employee well-being, fostering a sense of community, and leading by example, employers can create an inclusive and supportive work environment that encourages employees to return to the office with confidence.



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