Top 5 Trends And Practical Tips For A Successful Return-To-Work Implementation

Modo’s Daniela Axinte shares five trends and practical tips for a winning return-to-office strategy that not only garners high employee acceptance but also supports your organization’s business objectives and goals.

return-to-office strategy

A couple of weeks into the pandemic, everyone was anxious to return to “normal” and back to the office. Since then, 3 approaches to return-to-office (RTO) have emerged: mandatory, 5 days a week in-office presence; its opposite, permanent remote work; and the middle ground – 2-3 days in the office.

These three options are not surprising— each industry and company has unique requirements. For example, manufacturing companies, brick-and-mortar retailers, and equipment-intensive research facilities, like pharmaceutical companies, need their employees back in the office full-time. Many financial services companies run on a traditional face-to-face apprenticeship model to prepare and mentor their future workforce, and are therefore leaning towards more days in-office than out. Technology companies and other organizations employing knowledge workers, on the other hand, can offer full-time or partial remote options.

What is different and somewhat unexpected is how companies have varied their approach to RTO, and the changes they’ve made to their operations in order to balance business, professional, and human needs.

Here are five trends and practical tips for a winning return-to-office strategy that not only garners high employee acceptance but also supports your organization’s business objectives and goals.

1. Employee-centric experience unlocks the key to employee engagement

Why it matters: According to IDC, 85% of companies surveyed found that improved employee experience and higher employee engagement translated into better customer satisfaction and higher company revenues.

What can you do: 

  • Use design thinking to develop an experience approach based on each employee’s role and geography.
  • Consider the day-in-the-life of each of the roles, and layer the specific geographic nuances and rules to create a fully personalized experience.

Inspiration: Ideo’s Design Thinking site.

2. “Moments that matter” is more important than any specific day

Why it matters: If employees must commute, they want to ensure their time is spent on activities that matter, and not things they could have done from anywhere else.

What can you do: 

  • Make those moments matter for their career, and allow them to connect with colleagues and leadership professionally and socially.
  • Create moments that matter to nudge employees back to the office and ensure they are not missing out on important events and activities. Here are some examples: celebrating personal, professional, and business milestones; lunch-and-learns or guest presentations; important customer meetings; periodic 1-on-1s with direct reports; gamification and special events, like an office scavenger hunt, Taco Tuesday, table tennis competition, or group wellness classes, e.g., meditation or yoga.

Inspiration: How to identify moments that matter.

Return-To-Work Implementation

3. Connected workplaces are essential

Why it matters: The post-pandemic workplace is expected to be accessible from anywhere, at any time, on any device, regardless of the return-to-work policy.

What can you do: 

  • Make it easy for employees to securely access all the tools and systems they need regularly.
  • Keep in contact with your employees through notifications and announcements, and learn what they really want through surveys and quick polls.

Inspiration: Modo’s 10 principles of the connected workplace.

4. Technology is the critical element for a successful RTO

Why it matters: According to VentureBeat, a whopping “91% of employees reported that they’re frustrated with their work software, and a staggering 71% of leaders acknowledge that employees will consider looking for a new job if their current employer does not provide access to the tools, technology or information they need to do their jobs well”.

What can you do: 

  • Develop a hyper-personalized, unified workplace, aka “super app”, that allows your employees to connect with all the tools and systems they need and helps them navigate their workday seamlessly.
  • Offer ongoing training on new technology and refreshers on existing ones to avoid the digital divide amongst your employees, and increase productivity.

Inspiration: Modo’s roadmap to your unified digital experience project.

5. The office looks different

Why it matters: After almost three years of working from home or other places, returning to a traditional office can be a bit nerve-racking for some. Providing an office space that is inviting, feels safe, and offers a variety of options can be a very enticing reason to get your employees back to the office.

What can you do: 

  • Consider creating spaces that are more conductive to work by combining comfort and coolness with opportunities for collaboration and focused work.
  • To make a workday seamless, offer multiple types of space fully connected to the right technology, tools, and systems. For example, spaces for impromptu meetings, focus time, and short coffee breaks that resemble a coffee shop environment.

Inspiration: LinkedIn’s experimental newly transformed office building. Shearman & Sterling’s Revamped New York Headquarters Sets New Bar For Legal Workplaces.

At the end of the day, a return to normalcy will take time, and the office itself will not look exactly the same. There will continue to be a level of anxiety on both sides—employer and employee— but the focus should be on what is gained, not what is lost. Explaining the “why” for RTO, and offering flexibility and an environment for open communication will not only help with retention, but also make the shift to in-person feel less abrupt or coercive.

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