The Ingredients for a Successful Workplace Return
From our Content Contributor Partner, ISS.
The Ingredients for a Successful Workplace Return
For an effective return to office, leaders should focus on these critical areas to build a better environment for employees.
By Carli Cross, Head of Workplace and Operations Management, Americas
Returning to the workplace has been a challenging process for many organizations. With the rise of hybrid work and an uptick in remote employees, leaders are struggling to find the right balance of in-office time, amenities, and technology to ensure their people are getting what they need to be at their best.
According to CNBC, 90% of companies plan to implement RTO policies by the end of 2024. However, not all these RTO policies will go as planned. But with the right workplace team and strategy in place, leaders can give employees access to an enticing, productive environment, while also mitigating some major mistakes in the process.
ISS sought feedback from 10 of our workplace accounts across geographies, sectors, and service lines to understand what has worked well and what needed improvement as their employees returned to the workplace. While we have anonymized these companies, they are market leaders representing some of ISS Americas’ marquee clients.
Here’s what we learned from their RTO experiences.
What Works Well
Mandates & Clear Communication
The most successful RTO processes at client sites all include specific mandates for return. Most of those mandates establish three-day minimum attendance per week — with one client opting for two days — for most employees. Within these mandates, each client has variation in how the plans are executed, with some having proscriptive days at the workplace (e.g., everyone in the office Tuesday through Thursday) and others leaving in-office scheduling to individual managers.
A key element for successful RTO mandates includes clear and consistent communication of expectations with plenty of lead time to ensure employees understand and acknowledge the new policy. One throughline for many clients was that the nature of their mandates evolved as they better understood the needs of their people. As a result, leaders should keep in mind that initial plans may have to shift based on what they learn from employee feedback — some level of flexibility is necessary to find what works best for a specific team.
Effective Space Booking
For employees to get the most out of an environment, the technology options must transcend what is available at home to increase collaboration and productivity. A vital component is the ability to reserve spaces in the workplace. If workers can’t quickly and easily reserve a meeting room or private workstation, they are less likely to use the space altogether.
An employee-facing app coupled with an array of reservable space types can help drive utilization of the workplace — the easier the app is to use, the more people will use it to reserve a space in the office.
Incentives to Make the Commute
Beyond the tools and space to be productive, leaders should offer employees additional incentives that make the work experience more enjoyable. While offsite events were popular for teambuilding pre-pandemic, many clients shifted these large in-person events to the workplace, hosting recurring ice cream socials, offering wellness events like yoga or meditation, and providing amenities like nap rooms or onsite reflexology.
Subsidized food programs were also a popular option for driving RTO, along with social gatherings like happy hours to help ensure people feel connected to their colleagues and engaged with the workplace community.
What Needs Work
Lackluster Processes & Technology
As mentioned above, workplace technology must be effective and functional for employees to use it. Some of the most significant challenges clients faced dealt with onsite technology, notably around space reservations for those who have opted out of an employee-facing technology solution or use a legacy system that may not meet current needs. Without the ability to reserve spaces seamlessly, conflict rises over meeting areas and office usage, which often leads to a reduction in workplace utilization altogether.
Some also reported difficulties in tracking headcount accurately. Although people registered to come to the workplace in advance, this didn’t always reflect who arrived and at what time, making it difficult for leaders to know how and when their space was used.
Consistency of Mandates
Consistency in enforcing return-to-work mandates — and leaders modeling their desired attendance behavior — is a critical part of getting employees onboard with a new RTO policy. If workers feel their leaders are held to a different standard, they are less likely to use the workplace and may disengage from the larger community.
Getting RTO Right is Vital
As more people return to the workplace, organizations that offer meaningful incentives and amenities, open communication, and effective technologies have a better opportunity to increase space utilization and strengthen company culture.
RTO also requires a strong workplace team whose knowledge can help leaders navigate a complex, multifaceted process. Organizations leveraging the right people and plans are more likely to develop an engaged and collaborative workforce, along with a productive workplace that reflects it.
The RTO process doesn’t have to be needlessly long and expensive. With effective partnership, leaders can create the best possible environment for their employees and facilitate a better way of working.