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Return to the office: what employers are doing to incentivise in-office work

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Google, Meta, Salesforce, Amazon and Disney have all asked employees to return to the office in recent weeks, backtracking on formerly more flexible hybrid work policies.

So what are the different approaches employers are taking to incentivise in-office work?

Google now includes office attendance in employees’ performance reviews, with its chief people officer, Fiona Cicconi, reasoning there was no substitute for coming together in person, according to an internal memo.  

The news comes as 72% of companies globally have mandated a return to the office, with 42% experiencing higher than normal employee attrition, according to remote workspace company Unispace. 


More on returning to the office:

Are we returning to pre-pandemic ways of working?

Apple’s mandatory and phased return to office under scrutiny

Annoying colleagues deter Brits from returning to offices


Many influential business leaders champion office working’s benefits for creativity and collaboration.  

David Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs, called remote work “an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible,” citing lack of collaboration and support for apprenticeships. 

So how can HR balance the wishes of pro-office leaders, and employees who have come to value remote and flexible work? 

 

Carrot-and-stick  

Many employers are offering a variety of incentives to lure employees back to the office.  

Software company Salesforce has started a scheme in its American offices which donates $10 to local charities each day employees come in between 12 June and 23 June.  

Meanwhile, JPMorgan and Disney are offering in-office dining. 

Google has even hosted a Lizzo concert for employees and hired marching bands. 

Matt Ephgrave, managing director at Just Eat for Business, said employers should offer incentives that address employee’s reservations about working in the office. 

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “A good employer needs to take ownership of looking after its employees across all areas and can do this by offering perks and benefits, such as subsidised food, helping to relieve their employees from stress and assisting them financially.  

“For organisations, office food perks are tax-deductible, so their employee benefits money will go further. Receiving food at work can be a cost-efficient way for employees to enjoy the full value of their benefits. 

“From an employer perspective, it provides an incentive for workers to return and come together in a way only in-person interaction can facilitate, ultimately resulting in increased motivation, productivity and increased business success. It’s also important to be flexible – therefore a hybrid working model is key.” 

 

Employee-led decision making 

Return to office mandates could take away the work/life balance many employees have enjoyed since the pandemic, for example through long commutes. 

Dell has only asked workers living within an hour’s commute to work from the office for three days per week, according to The Register. 

Acknowledging that this may leave some workers struggling to find suitable provisions, such as childcare, the request is being made on an “as soon as you can arrange it” basis. 

Adam Ross, CEO of affiliate marketing platform Awin, said the company has gauged employees’ needs and expectations to find a balance between the flexibility of remote work and the sense of belonging built in the office. 

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “It’s possible to establish a hybrid approach to working that respects the modern employee’s desire for flexibility while also recognising that some work will always be best done together, in person. 

“It’s important for businesses to put proper thought into these decisions, understand the true nature of the work their staff is engaged in, and set clear guidelines for the ideal location for those different types of work.” 

Ross said full-time office work could limit international companies’ ability to attract and retain global talent. 

He added: “In a distributed, global environment like Awin’s, forcing people to be present in a specific location where they may have a long commute and spend most of their day on Teams/Zoom calls anyway is simply nonsensical.  

“Businesses will lose talent if they treat employees this way, so they should be cautious. It is not unreasonable, however, to still request employees occasionally be present in the office, but to ensure those trips are valuable when they happen.”  

Perry Timms, founder of HR consultancy PTHR, also said working patterns should be built in an employee-led way. 

“Build office culture and attendance through consulting people on a team level and agreeing on a schedule that will allow work-life balance. 

“Office attendance needs to be about what benefits only the office space can give us, rather than a lack of trust or a forced routine.  

“What bond can be formed by being in a shared space? And what can we build more strongly and creatively when we’re together in an office-type environment?”  

 

Provide explanation

Vanessa Stock, CPO of software startup Pitch, said providing reasons for why workers need to return to the office is key. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “If leaders can provide genuine clarity on their remote work strategy and end goals, their teams will execute more successfully.  

“Protecting or reviving outdated traditions is like swimming against the tide – we need to find new ways of collaborating and building teams.  

“I can assure you the answer is not calling everyone back to the office for an arbitrary number of days per week.” 

Katherine Rathbone, head of HR at law firm Addleshaw Goddard, said clearly communicating policies helps give employees consistency and accountability. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “I think things can fall apart when there is an absence of clear and consistent policies around hybrid working.  

“Lack of consistent attendance can lead to a breakdown in team culture, a drop in employee engagement and morale and possibly lower levels of performance. It’s important to be fair. 

“When developing our approach to hybrid working, we knew we needed to set out really clear guidance.” 

Rathbone said Addleshaw Goddard’s guidance is specific about how employees can schedule hybrid working to maximise the benefits of both working remotely and in the office. 

She said: “Within our guidance document, which provides advice for employees and line managers, for example, we describe certain tasks that we think are better suited to working in the office and encourage team anchor days to make sure people get the most from the office environment.  

“We have created a toolkit to help teams define their collective responsibilities and how objectives can be met under a hybrid structure. This is especially important for junior employees where in-person mentoring is crucial. 

“We have also created an OWOW (Our Ways of Working) policy to pull together all the key elements of core policies such as absence reporting, hybrid working guidance and flexible working requests, including a right for all employees to make a request from day one of employment with the firm.” 

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