Hope to see you soon – How are employers attracting remote workers back into the workplace?

Business 4th May 2023

Now that remote and hybrid working has become well and truly established in the workplace, we are all beginning to form a better picture of the long-term potential. For some that means asking the employees to return to work, but what if they are reluctant to do that?

The remote working conundrum

There is a new question emerging when it comes to hybrid and remote working. Now that the dust has settled and enough time has passed, most employers have made the decision about whether to continue with it or not. In many cases working from home has been a success and become an accepted part of the working practices. In some instances, it has gone the other way and the return to the workplace was welcomed by everyone. When things are cut and dried in this way there is no issue.

Where we are finding employers have questions and they often need advice, is around what happens when the employer decides that remote working is not for them, but the team is potentially reluctant to return to the workplace.  

Can you insist on a return to the office?

Assuming you are meeting your duty of care, any legal requirements, and there is nothing contractually to say the worker has the right to work from home, then in theory you can insist they return. We are dealing with people and not just the paperwork though, so it does require careful handling. The last thing any business needs is a workplace full of disgruntled employees, resulting in problems with retention and a drop in productivity.

So, yes, you may well be able to enforce a return to the office against the wishes of your team, but in the long run, you could well be storing up more problems than you are resolving.

What can you do to encourage a return to the workplace

To be clear, as long as there are no contractual complications, there is no reason why you should not inform the team that they do not have right to work from home and that remote or hybrid working was a temporary measure that has been removed. The terms of employment should always be clear. Enforcement is rarely a good option except as a last resort, so it’s better to look at how the return can be managed.

The objections to losing the remote working option are almost certainly going to be centred around some or all of the benefits it brings to the individual. To ease the transition back into the workplace it’s important to understand and address these objections. Conversely the reasons some employees miss the workplace and want to return are again quite universal. By reducing the impact of one and raising the profile of the other you can help the employee accept the need to be back in the workplace.

  • To start with, be open and transparent about why you want people back at work. Discuss it and include the team in the decision to return. There is a very big difference between telling someone they must do something and asking them to help achieve something.
  • The flexibility of home working is usually the biggest appeal. There is bound to be some drop in how much freedom the employee has with their schedule if they return to the workplace, however, that may not be as much as they think. In general, the benefits of remote working will centre around a few key things. Childcare, such as collecting children from school and not needing to pay for childcare, is probably the most common one. Is it possible to build some of these key times into a new working cycle?
  • You could look at other options, such as hybrid working; could you accommodate some days working from home and some in the workplace?
  • Increasing the social aspect of working life can be a big draw. A few small measures such as social events, team exercises, allowing more control over the environment and so on will emphasise the more pleasurable aspects of being back at work.
  • Everyone hates the commute so would staggering the start and leave times be an option? Small changes like guaranteeing parking spaces or subsidising the cost of train travel could also help.
  • Could you improve the environment to make it more welcoming? Again, this is a great opportunity to collaborate with the employees to engender a sense of ownership over the workplace.
  • Offer more onsite benefits to offset the perceived inconvenience of a return to work. Free or subsidised lunch options, increased training schedules, better facilities, new equipment or whatever suits your workplace are surprisingly tempting.
  • Be prepared for the potential complications because sadly you may get an employee who is simply not prepared to accept the situation. Take advice and be ready so you know exactly where you stand if this happens.

Whatever you think is appropriate to increasing the appeal of coming back into work, it’s vital that you integrate it with your policies and procedures. Whenever you change what constitutes the working practices of your employees you need to make sure you are still within your legal and contractual obligations. Remember the need to accommodate remote working during the pandemic? Well, now you are doing the opposite, so you need to confirm where you stand and what your obligations are.

Bringing the team back to the workplace doesn’t need to cause conflict or be a headache, providing you do it in the right way. Call us and let’s chat about how we can help you prepare to welcome back the team.

It’s our pleasure to keep our clients happy

  • Zinc
  • Growth Deck
  • Billing Finance
  • Shoosmiths
  • PBC
  • hdn
  • Millers Consultancy
  • Pyke Smith Cutler
  • LMH
  • Baker Taylor