4 Overlooked Considerations for a
Thoughtful Return to the Office

Balancing the needs of the business with the needs of employees is a difficult line to walk. To ensure
your return to the office is inclusive and thoughtful, consider these 4 overlooked but critical points.

As the war on talent continues to put pressure on employers of all sizes, many are contemplating how and when a return to the workplace might unfold. In the past two years, employees have experienced more flexibility and integration of work and home than ever before. While this has been a luxury for many, it has also been a necessity for some- especially those with care demands at home- from young children, aging parents, etc.

The challenges these employees face as the world returns to “normal” will affect their productivity at work, and contribute to retention issues. 

But it also presents employers with an opportunity. In today’s war for talent, organizations are in search of creative benefits that will attract and retain top talent, improve productivity, and increase employee loyalty. Companies who build their return to work policies in a way that reflect employee’s realities will put employers ahead in the war for talent.

1. Acknowledge The New Normal

Employers must acknowledge the routines and structures that once kept our work and home lives completely separate have faded. Many employees have found ways to shift their priorities- remaining productive and effective in full-time roles while also focusing on and tending to the needs of their family.

2. Accept The Shift in Priorities

To win the war for talent, employers must realize that today’s workforce will no longer choose between their personal lives, family, and work. Instead, they expect policies and benefits that allow them to integrate and prioritize these aspects of the lives accordingly.

Employers looking for ways to support these team members can start by asking and observing – what has newfound flexibility allowed for that a traditional work structure did not, and how can you continue to support that?

School pick-ups & drop-offs: Many parents had the opportunity to experience school pick-ups and drop-offs at times when they would normally be in the office, handing off the responsibility to a nanny or other family member. Besides the fact that many parents enjoyed the extra time and connection with their children, many cannot find appropriate childcare options to go back to their “normal” school routines.

New care situations: There are more caregivers coming out of the pandemic than ever before. From aging parents to chronic conditions, recovery from sudden accidents, new diagnoses etc., caregiving employees are tasked with new financial, logistical, and emotional burdens that may not have existed pre-pandemic. Today, caregiving is the second-largest reason employees are leaving the workforce. This reality affects every team in every organization- in fact, 1 in 5 of your employees is currently caring for a loved one. The challenges they face as the world returns to “normal” will affect their productivity at work, and contribute to retention issues.

With added commutes, mandatory in-office policies, and less flexibility in working hours, many employees will be forced to reevaluate their employment. The loss of time and flexibility will affect how many manage their loved one’s care- from transportation to and from doctor’s appointments, staying on top of medications, daily care tasks like eating and bathing, etc., as well as their ability to focus and be productive at work.

3. Rethink the Definition of “Work”

The pandemic proved that employees are not only capable of working remotely and with increased flexibility, but actually show increased productivity and performance levels. To build workplaces that encourage true employee engagement and satisfaction, we must rethink and redefine “work”, to focus more on output vs environment.

That being said, of course there are limitations and boundaries on what that might look like for your organization. Here are two strategies we have seen be successful both for employers and employees alike.

Implement “core hours”: This is a pre-set window of time that employees are expected to be online, accessible, and working. Outside of this window (which is typical 4-5 hours of the day), employees should feel free to make up the rest of their work at a time that complements their other obligations – school pickups, soccer practice, doctor’s appointments, hospital visiting hours, etc. By setting agreed upon windows, every team member knows when they can and should expect to be online.

Flexible days: If you do opt for a return to the office, consider keeping Work-From-Home days, so employees have some remaining flexibility while also spending time in the office. Hybrid work has proven to be effective and inclusive, and actually more flexible than full WFH policies. Many employees with care situations at home are not able to focus, and look forward to a change in environment.

4. Implement Programs and Benefits That Truly Reflect Employees

In today’s “post-pandemic” workplace, employers should be intentional in the approach to benefits and policies, and especially focused on programs that mirror the company’s values.

While compensation and traditional perks remain important, companies recognizing the intersection of life and work, and showing care in how employees are supported in these moments will come out on top.

Benefits that break the mold: This means thinking beyond typical parental benefits and standard state-mandated leave policies. Employees are demanding more authentic support from employers- support that reflects their stage of life.

Caregiver support: Although the data suggests caregivers make up a large portion of the workforce, these employees remain mostly overlooked by workplace policies and benefits. Many organizations are feeling the impact of caregiving employees in their retention efforts – in fact, 4 in 10 working caregivers are at risk of choosing between their jobs and family demands in the next year alone. These employees require innovative programs and policies that are built to meet their exact needs- not carried over from a one-sized-fits-all family care benefit.

Ultimately, employers hoping to retain top talent must shift to drive employee loyalty through tangible support solutions- for all stages of life. Employees from entry-level up to the C-suite have a wide range of needs, and they will continue to expect benefits and programs in the workplace that allow them to integrate these needs into their work.

A successful return to the workplace is possible when approached thoughtfully. By actively considering how your organization can support employees who face logistical challenges coming back to the office, you can lower attrition, boost employee loyalty, and increase productivity.

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