While concerns over the pandemic remain, businesses are beginning to learn to live with COVID. They’re asking employees to return to the office.

In fact, the New York Times recently reported that real-estate firm CBRE data shows the tech industry already leased 76% more office space in the last three quarters of 2021 than it did in 2020.

We’re also starting to see the creativity of office perks reach new heights. Google is bringing back the offering of massages and gyms at its California headquarters. According to the Financial Times, others are adding spaces for pets, nail salons, rock climbing walls, and more. But are these efforts actually increasing their employees’ desire to physically return to the office?

For the past two years, the office was a place that was largely imaginary – and as employees have proved to be more productive than ever, many are wondering why, now, they need to return to pre-pandemic work styles.

That’s where many are getting it wrong. Perhaps there shouldn’t be a pre-pandemic work style. In fact, maybe you’ll want to remove that notion from your associations with work altogether.

The new role of the office is about promoting culture. It’s about promoting collaboration. So how can you make sure when your team steps back into your office for the first time, your efforts will not come off as being just a gimmick to get them back in the space?

Reeducate employees on purpose

Your No. 1 priority needs to be ensuring your team that the flexibility they’ve grown to appreciate is not going away. If you ask them to return to the office without communicating what in-office expectations are, they’ll likely be upset.

At a time when workers are ditching their jobs for new roles that align with their values – flexibility, pay, culture, etc. – upsetting your team is something that certainly no employer can risk today.

Show hybrid is in the best interest

Don’t force your teams back into the office with a heavy hand. Instead, promote clear lines of communication with employees to show you value their opinion and will make sure their occasional return to the office will be in their best interest.

Identify schedules that are comfortable and agreeable to all parties. Then foster a workspace where employees have the freedom to make their own choices without consequence.

Remodel to fit new work reality

Many are hesitant to return to the office for health and safety reasons, but we see cafés fill their seats. Why is that? Probably because the café culture has become much more attractive than traditional office settings.

When you think about a café, you likely associate it with a cozy, attractive destination. It’s where people come together as needed to get things done. This doesn’t mean you have to slash your space in half. But you’ll want to remove most of your desks. I took this belief quite literally. My company’s New York office technically fits 100 people. We only have 16 desks!

These efforts are not necessarily interchangeable. Your company’s return to office is not a pick and choose activity. All must come together in perfect synergy for your employees to happily return to the office, even part-time.

If you simply opt to build a large space with 6-feet between each desk, you’re not seeing the big picture. If you pack your space with a gym, cafeteria, collaboration spaces, but do not pursue the meaningful elements of understanding your employee’s needs, you’re also not seeing the big picture.

Not every company is the same. So you need to do what’s best for your business and your workers as you plan your return. If you reeducate employees on your intention of in-person elements of work, reengage in the office on agreed-upon schedules and reengineer your office to be a place of collaboration, you will see your employees start to come back.

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