The journey back to office life is a subtle art of balance and understanding. As the world evolves beyond pandemic-induced remote work, we have noticed many businesses find themselves navigating the delicate process of returning to shared workspaces. Notably, among the UK's largest employers, there's a thoughtful hesitation—a recognition that the traditional five-day office week may be a relic of the past. Through our daily conversations with trailblazers in the tech-recruitment world, and with some of the UK’s leading brands, we’ve noted essential insights and actionable strategies for hiring managers and business leaders aiming to master this transition.

The 'Why' Behind Reuniting Teams in the Office:

The advantages of in-office collaboration are obvious, yet the methodology behind the move back to offices is often under-thought, and blanket approached. Whether you are amid devising a 'return to office' blueprint for 2024 or communicating ongoing changes, the key lies in the delivery. Anchoring your strategy in well-articulated reasons can make all the difference. For example, reminding teams that returning to the office can be pinnacle in:

  • Fostering innovation and collaborative breakthroughs.
  • Deepening professional bonds.
  • Mental health – some personal interaction is healthy!
  • Cultivating a vibrant company culture and a sense of belonging.
  • Leveraging the dynamic energy of shared office environments.

Reframing the Narrative: Beyond 'Back to Work':

A frequent misstep we can see which has been raised by our world-class tech candidates we speak to, is the portrayal of this shift as a 'return to work'—a narrative that undermines the diligence of your (already) hard working employees. It's time for a, dare-we-say, PIVOT! (Oh, so 2020?). Not the case! Language holds immense power, and its misuse can cause unintended friction. Avoid implying that work was ever paused by choosing phrases like 'welcoming you back to the office' or 'enhancing face-to-face collaboration'.

Tuning into Employee Desires:

Understanding the heartbeat of your workforce is paramount. What constitutes their 'ideal' workspace? What are their non-negotiables? Successful enterprises we work with like flydocs, Auto Trader, and MoneySuperMarket demonstrate that a thoughtful approach to 'return to office' strategies resonates deeply. Reviewing the market trends across the board, we can also see that regular employee pulse surveys are invaluable, signaling to your team that their voices are heard and their contributions are valued. A great example of this is below:

(Source, Customer Thermometre pulse check example)

Across various sectors, we find a common thread in employee expectations:

  • The freedom to choose when and where they work.
  • A sense of autonomy and influence over their work.
  • Quiet zones for focused productivity.
  • Smart scheduling to maximise the value of their time.

Crafting Your 'Return to the Office' Blueprint:

Here’s how you can architect a mutually beneficial return-to-office strategy:

Cultural Insights: Conducting a pulse check to capture the mood and preferences of your team can inform a tailored approach; The key is sharing active listening and tangible action points off the back of it to back-up your communications of any step-changes in requiring more office attendance.

Incremental Change: Auto Trader had great success with a phased communication strategy, and understands the need for patience and flexibility with this process. Their hybrid working policies ensure that their teams remain connected in the office space, while still enjoying flexibility to work from home too. The tips we have taken from their approach is to set out the stages behind the scenes, offer open communication, and consultations. People and their lives may have changed throughout the pandemic, which were working in line with the previous business allowances. So, give employees the time to adapt to new changes. This will bring them on the journey with you.

Purpose-Driven Presence: flydocs’ productivity-focused model prioritises meaningful in-person interactions—think strategic meetings and collaboration sessions. People generally respond well to logic. So if you’re asking them to come into the office to do the same job in the same way they currently do from home – you may not get the positive response you’re after. Make the days people are in the office actively different, enhancing roundtable moments, 1-2-1 sessions and actively build your team culture.

Anchor Days: MoneySuperMarket’s introduction of anchor days strikes a harmonious balance between remote flexibility and in-office collaboration. This has been a popular choice across the board in all markets – and can be seen as a compromise between business needs and employee desires.

Keeping an Eye on the Competition: Stay competitive by understanding and, if necessary, outpacing the perks offered by rival firms. Losing your team members to the competition sucks – so to avoid this, assess current work-place trends and offerings.

Pitfalls to Avoid:

The feedback from our network essentially advises to steer clear of the following delivery styles and approaches when managing 'return to the office' strategies:

  • Sudden policy announcements.
  • Substantial changes in attendance (1 day a week to 3 days a week).
  • Excluding employees from the conversation.
  • Neglecting to provide the 'why' behind changes.
  • Ignoring the competitive landscape for employee benefits.

Closing Thoughts:

The path back to the office is best travelled with a blend of empathy and thorough communication. By aligning your strategies for returning teams to the office with a genuine understanding of your employees' present and evolving needs, you create a happier work force, who are willing to embrace change, and are fuelled to generate new ideas to drive your business forwards – together!

Discover More:

For more insights from Burns Sheehan, your expert partner in tech recruitment across London and Manchester, visit our content hub here.