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The 6 Biggest Mistakes Companies can Make During the Return to Office (+ How to Avoid Them)

Aug 26 2021

This summer, companies around the world are preparing for the return to office. Whether they have been a flexible organization for years now or their first experience with flexible work was onset by the pandemic, everyone is navigating this return to office through the lens of transition and change. For many business leaders, a key component of orchestrating a cohesive return involves dictating new hybrid workplace policies and guidelines, as well as redesigning the office space to better support the hybrid work model.

This transition to a hybrid way of life is growing in popularity around the world as more and more companies determine what the “new normal” looks like for their organization. Business leaders have been quick to discern that the best path forward is one that takes into account the fact that over the past year and a half, the expectations of the employees they are keen on welcoming back to the office have changed.

In an era of high turnover rates, employee burnout, and global uncertainty, putting a priority on a flexible employee experience will improve retention rates and productivity, all while reducing work-related stress.

Ready to find out what your workplace strategy and design should look like? Take the VergeSense Workplace Strategy Quiz to help map out your return to office plan.

Top 6 Return to Office Mistakes Companies can Make (+ How to Avoid Them)

The return to office is going to look differently for each and every company depending on the needs of their specific workforce and their existing office space. So while no company will be able to exactly mirror their return strategy exactly after another’s, business leaders are all able to learn from the mistakes of their peers in order to refine their own return. 

The top mistakes companies are making during the return to office include:

  • Not having a strategy at all.
  • Not having a data-driven strategy.
  • Not factoring in employee feedback.
  • Not providing options for all employee situations.
  • Not creating sustainable workplace solutions.
  • Going right back to how they were pre-pandemic.

Let’s take a closer look at the top mistakes companies are making during this return, so we can learn how to avoid them.

1) Not having a strategy at all.

There are some things that we can go into with no plan of action and ultimately emerge victorious on the other side. The return to office is not one of these things. Instead, setting your teams up for long term success after they return requires the formulating of a comprehensive return strategy that factors in:

  • The lived experience of your employees
  • Your existing office space capabilities
  • The introduction of hybrid systems
  • Your company goals

By refusing to craft a strategy, you’ll be welcoming employees back to an office that no longer meets their needs.

How to avoid this mistake: Before you reopen your office doors, take the necessary time to craft a comprehensive return to office strategy. Not only will this strategy allow you to visualize the changes you’ll be making to your office space (the new tech you’ll be implementing, how you’ll reorganize your workspaces, the hybrid schedules your employees will be working on etc.) but it will also help you once it comes time to communicate all of these changes to your employees.  

2) Not having a data-driven strategy.

When it comes to the return to office, data is key. After all, the only thing worse than not making any decisions at all is making uninformed decisions. In order to be productively proactive as you prepare to welcome your workforce back to the office, take a data-driven approach to your return strategy. When you use a comprehensive workplace analytics platform like VergeSense to provide you with insights into how your evolved employees use your office space, you won’t have to guess how to optimize your workspaces— you’ll know.

How to avoid this mistake: Start by assessing any workplace usage and employee behavior data you collected pre-pandemic. From analyzing this data some patterns should begin to emerge. Then, use those patterns as a jumping off point for how you proceed with crafting your return strategy. Once your return has started, it’s important that you continuously monitor workplace behavior in order to continuously gather insights that will help you make ongoing data-driven decisions.

3) Not factoring in employee feedback.

Another valuable piece of data that should factor into your return to office strategy is employee feedback. Without taking the lived experience of your employees into account, you’ll be unable to build a completely comprehensive strategy. 

According to the Department of Labor, employee turnover rates have reached a record high— nearly 4 million people quit their jobs in April of this year, pushing the rate to 2.7% of those employed. And since the core of employee turnover is job dissatisfaction, factoring employee feedback into your return to office strategy is a good way to show your team members that you hear them and are willing to support them.

How to avoid this mistake: Factoring in employee feedback should be an ongoing process for all organizations, and is especially important during transitional periods like this one when stress and uncertainty are heightened. To collect the comprehensive employee feedback you need to create a successful return to office strategy, survey employees on:

  • What they expect from the physical workspace once they return to the office.
  • Their ideal hybrid schedule.
  • Which tech tools they need to succeed, while working on-site and remotely.
  • What (if any) changes need to be made to the office for them to feel safe returning.

4) Not providing options for all employee situations.

A hybrid company is a flexible company. A primary factor of pivoting to a hybrid work model is the incorporation of flexible policies and schedules for employees. After a year of constantly abiding by ever changing shelter in place orders and social distancing practices, the modern employee craves the freedom of choice more than ever before. To meet this new need, companies should embrace all of the flexibility that hybrid work has to offer by providing options for all employee situations.

How to avoid this mistake: Your employees have undergone a myriad of changes over the past year and a half, resulting in a heightened need for control over their environment. To provide your teams with the control they desire, provide them with various options for situations such as:

  • When deciding their hybrid schedule (when they will be working on-site and when they’ll work remotely).
  • Which workspace they will use each day (aka using agile seating).
  • Which tools they will use for hybrid collaboration with their teams.
  • The forms of communication they’ll use to connect with one another.

5) Not creating sustainable workplace solutions.

Making adjustments to your workspace to support hybrid work is a fundamental aspect of any company's return to office strategy. However, one of the biggest mistakes being made is the lack of sustainability of these adjustments. Hybrid work is not just a phase or trend that will fade out in coming years, it is here to stay. And because of the longevity of hybrid work, the changes you make to your office space and employee policies should be approached as long term adjustments. 

How to avoid this mistake: Creating sustainable workplace solutions comes back to making decisions that are data-driven and take the employee experience into account. An essential component of avoiding this mistake is to conduct ongoing reporting on any new policies and workplace changes you enact to support the return to office. Once you accept that this is an ongoing process that will continue to evolve alongside your organization, you can begin to implement more meaningful and sustainable changes.

6) Going right back to how they were pre-pandemic.

Many companies are anxious to revert right back to how they were pre-pandemic. It seems like the easiest solution and one that can be done without making a collection of changes to the workspace. 

However, returning to the way things were before would neglect to take into account how their employees, their organization, and the world has changed since they were last all in the office together. It is not a race to see who can return to “business as usual” first. Instead, the return to office is an opportunity to expand your capabilities in new, hybrid ways.

What many organizations don’t realize is that there was a shift happening pre-pandemic that has only been heightened since then. When comparing pre- and post-pandemic use of office spaces, there has been an increase in the use of collaborative spaces. The most world’s most successful employers are using this moment as an opportunity to rethink their workplace for the future. 

How to avoid this mistake: The most simple way to avoid this costly mistake is to embrace all of the ways your organization has changed in the recent years. Instead of chalking the pandemic up solely to being a disruptor or the mountain of a speed bump that it was, choose to see it for what it also is— an unprecedented opportunity for you to turn your physical workplace into an organizational value creator. 

How to Make Data-Informed Return to Office Decisions

The strength of your data-informed return to office designs is dependent on the tools you use to make them. When you use an intuitive workplace analytics platform like VergeSense you’ll be able to gain valuable ongoing insights into precisely how, where, and when your employees are using your workplace productively. Then, you can use these insights to make proactive, hyper-informed decisions to better support the return of your newly hybrid workforce. 

To begin utilizing the most comprehensive workplace analytics solution, request a VergeSense demo today.

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