Employees resist returning to offices

(CNN) — Many employers have made it clear that they want their workers to return to the office, at least in part.

But some employees, who have spent the last two years working almost entirely remotely, are wondering why they have to go back to work in person. Gasoline prices are high. Covid infections are on the rise (again). They have been productive at home and when they go to the office, few of their colleagues are there.

“Employees really want flexibility and the ability to choose where, when and how they work. They don’t want to be told, ‘You have to be here these days.’ They want choice,” says Ryan Luby, a partner at McKinsey & Company.

At the beginning of this year, a pew survey found that among workers who have an office away from home, 61% said they choose not to go to their workplace.

Whether it’s a hybrid model or requiring employees to come in five days a week, employers must demonstrate the value of asking workers to return to the office if they’ve successfully worked from home for two years .

“If the only thing that changes in their day is that they are going to spend less time at home … and they arrive at the office and there is no one else or there are no people to collaborate with, then they will not understand what is the point of doing this”, said Vanessa Matsis-McCready, Associate General Counsel and Director of Human Resources at Engage PEO.

Matsis-McCready added that offering employees a childcare or eldercare support service can help them in the transition. Plus, little perks like paid podcast subscriptions to make the commute more enjoyable, free office meals, in-person learning sessions, and social gatherings can also help entice workers to come back. .

Do companies take drastic measures?

In one of the most extreme cases, Tesla CEO Elon Musk sent an email to employees saying they had to be in the office at least 40 hours a week or leave the company.

However, many companies are not yet implementing mandates in this regard. But they are encouraging workers to show up, according to Brian Kropp, distinguished vice president of Gartner’s HR practice, who added that companies tend to rely on badge passes if they want to make sure employees follow protocol.

“The way almost every company follows up is: Did you pass your badge when you walked in the doors or not?”

But, for the most part, he said it’s too soon for companies to start cracking down on employees who aren’t meeting required face-to-face time.

“Right now, they’re not actively firing people who don’t come in often enough. It’s more of ‘let’s talk to them and find out what the problem is.'”

But that might not last too long.

“The idea that if someone really doesn’t want to be in the office, I think a year ago a company might try to work with them, but now it’s a little bit more of ‘Okay, is that what we want for our business? And if not If so, maybe they don’t fit anymore and that’s okay,” says Matsis-McCready.

Finding the right balance

Some companies seek to reach an agreement with employees.

Fertility benefits management company Progyny reopened its Manhattan office in September with a plan for workers assigned to its headquarters to come into the office five days a week. The company gave the workers three months’ notice and, anticipating resistance, used the first two weeks as a test.

After returning to the office full time, workers met with their bosses and executives held check-in meetings to gauge how people were adjusting. One of the main concerns of the workers was childcare due to the uncertainty about the lockdowns.

“Clearly nobody liked the five days and that’s what we anticipated,” said Cassandra Pratt, senior vice president of people at Progyny. “We got feedback that confirmed our thought process that hybrid was better.”

Two weeks later, the company changed its policy, requiring employees to report to the office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

Still, some employees wondered why they were coming back when they had worked well remotely for the past two years, according to Pratt.

“That’s where we came back to the fact that our culture is really an office culture and we think those casual conversations and face-to-face interactions are important to who we are,” Pratt said, “and we’ve seen a significant increase in collaboration It has also reduced some worries and tensions and some group dynamics by being in person.”

The company has expanded the types of roles that can work fully remotely, but there are some limitations. Executives have to be able to come into the office three days a week, and directors and vice presidents running teams in New York can’t work remotely full-time. This requirement meant letting go of some managers.

“We had a few people whose work really needed to be in the office, given the level and scope of their role, and they had relocated and we couldn’t make their role remote,” Pratt said.

Showpad, which offers software to help companies increase sales, conducted a survey of its workers before it reopened its offices last summer. The results showed that most employees did not want to be in the office more than one or two days a week. And 13% of workers wanted to work from home full time.

Although workers were clear about their preferences, some company managers initially worried that a lack of in-person time might harm their culture, said chief of staff Kelli Koschmann.

“Obviously, there was a tension between preferences and needs and business impact,” Koschmann said.
Now, the decision on the frequency of workers is decided at the team level.

“There were a lot of conversations at the leadership level about what’s good in terms of achieving the business impact we want to have and how being in the office plays into that.”

How important is the fact that they are sitting in the office?

Before establishing a firm office presence policy, digital staffing company Thoughtful Automation is evaluating whether there is a correlation between its employees’ performance and the days they are in the office.

The company, which launched in early 2020, started out fully remote. But as it grew, it opened an office in Chicago and ended up giving workers the option to relocate, offering to pay moving costs.

Now, most of the company is in Chicago, and while some employees had agreed to move, CEO Alex Zekoff said they still didn’t come to the office as much as he wanted.

“In one of our all-employee meetings we had to be very explicit…and put a policy in place.” Currently, coming three days a week on average meets expectations, two or less is considered below expectations, and four or five days a week exceeds expectations.

Zekoff noted that the policy is still an experiment.

“We don’t really know if someone who comes in for two days is less productive,” he said.

While there is no set mandate to go in person right now, Zekoff said there have been some early signs of non-compliance.

“We’re starting to have to deal with it,” he said. “It’s been a bit more of a direct conversation of trying to understand what the problem is.”

Zekoff said they’ve also seen some evidence that coming to the office more often improves collaboration and performance.

“One team wasn’t coming in as much as another and we noticed a difference in the team dynamic…the other team felt like they weren’t keeping their end of the bargain.”

But if the experiment shows that increased office time doesn’t improve performance, Zekoff said he’s open to new policies.

“Politics should be something in constant evolution.”

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