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Catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic, remote and hybrid working is now a part of the status quo. Discover the best way to lead your team back toward an effective face-to-face work culture.

As a team leader, you may find yourself reflecting on the ‘good old days’ of the in-office nine-to-five and see flexible working arrangements as temporary. However, companies worldwide seeking to push work back into the office have faced strong resistance from their teams and for many, especially parents and gen Z, working remotely isn’t something they’ll readily give up.

So how can we navigate these return-to-office conversations?

Before you even think of starting these discussions, there are multiple considerations that must be made. Is this the best arrangement for the company’s culture? How will this shift impact employee retention? Is there grounds for employees to dispute these changes?

A Popular Change?

It’s important to note that while some offices are implementing return-to-office policies, this is not the popular choice for the majority. In the United States, 74 percent of companies are using or plan to implement a permanent hybrid work model.

In Western Europe, 77 percent of companies offer flexible work post-pandemic, and in Australia 97 percent of organizations offer some form of flexible working arrangement, with 80 percent looking to retain this policy long-term.

There’s a strong indication that a transition to a completely in-office culture would have an impact on team morale and could even result in the loss of star talent.

This company sentiment aligns with workers. Globally, 81 percent of employees prefer to work in a hybrid or remote format, and if required to return to the office, 35 percent would begin looking for new employment and six percent would outright quit.

There’s a strong indication that a transition to a completely in-office culture would have an impact on team morale and could even result in the loss of star talent, so it’s important to analyze your company’s position and whether it can afford the potential impact.

Depending on your location, there may also be legal obstacles preventing you from implementing these policies company-wide. If employment contracts contain ‘workplace flexibility’ provisions, then employees may have rights to work from home or make a request.

Remaining Sensitive

The United States’ Fair Labor Standards Act does not address flexible work schedules, but in Australia, under the Fair Work Act it’s a different story. Employees have the right to request flexible work arrangements if they’ve been with a company for at least 12 months and if they are a parent of a young child, a carer, have a disability, are pregnant or other eligible employees.

Similarly, in some European countries, working parents with children of up to at least eight years old and all carers have the right to request reduced working hours, flexible working hours and flexibility in the place of work.

If impacting factors have been accounted for and a return-to-office transition is determined to be necessary, it’s vital to be open to accommodating reasonable requests for flexible work arrangements.

Rather than a sharp change in direction, can current procedures be gradually phased out and replaced with new policy? Cutting back on remote hours rather than outright removal can make for an easier transition period, while maintaining employee work-life balance.

Patience may be needed as employees adjust to their new schedules.

It’s important to remember that during this phase, employees with children will need to find alternative childcare arrangements or new after-school pick-up plans, and some staff may have moved a significant distance away from the office with the expectation that they would no longer need to make a regular commute. Therefore, patience may be needed as employees adjust to their new schedules.

In an economy where worker demand often exceeds supply, implementing replacement incentives can help retain staff that may otherwise be deterred by this decision. Providing resources and support for the transition, such as transportation assistance or childcare services, can demonstrate a commitment to employee wellbeing.

Find a Balance

As with any large transition, employees may have concerns about the return to the office. Ensure you’re proactive to ensure solutions are prepared head-on, it’s vital to acknowledge that transitioning to an in-office culture should be a collaborative effort, fostering open communication and understanding.

Opt out of imposing strict policies and instead engage in a dialogue with your teams, taking into account the unique circumstances of your employees. Flexibility is a two-way street, and finding a balance that accommodates both business needs and staff preferences is key.

Transparency is everything and the rationale behind this decision must be clearly communicated. Whether it’s to enhance team collaboration, foster creativity or align with business goals, sharing your organization’s vision creates a sense of purpose and unity among employees.

The answer may lie not at the extremes, but right in the middle.

We often debate the future of work by pitting the benefits of remote work against the merits of in-office collaboration. However, the answer may lie not at the extremes, but right in the middle.

Traditional office culture places a focus on mere presence as a catalyst for high performance, but approximately four in five United States employers believe that to be true with remote work. In-office attendance does not ensure alignment with company values, and an emphasis on the importance of delivering quality work, irrespective of the physical location, can ensure KPIs are still met by your team.

If you recognize that the middle ground is not static, and rather choose to position yourself as an advocate for a culture of continuous adaptation, then you can ensure the wellbeing of both your company and its employees. Regularly reassessing and refining work policies based on feedback, industry trends and the evolving needs of the workforce ensures a dynamic and responsive approach to the future of work.

Barbara Matthews

Contributor Collective Member

Barbara Matthews is the Chief People Officer at Remote, a HR technology startup specializing in building 100 percent remote teams. For more information, go to https://www.linkedin.com/in/barbaramatthews/

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