Many corporations are hoping to lure employees back to the office, now that the Omicron surge seems to have passed. But few companies will insist on having everyone back, all of the time. After the past few years of remote work, employee expectations have changed. Even if they’re interested in showing up in the office some days, most seem to prefer having the option of working remotely a significant portion of the time. Some seem to have no interest in working in the office at all.
So what can companies do to encourage employees to come back to the office? Here are a handful of ideas you might consider.
Even if they haven’t missed sitting in a cubicle or open-plan office, employees have likely missed the camaraderie and community of the workplace. Make a breakfast gathering more enticing by hiring a barista and coffee cart, or having an omelet station, or anything that raises the bar a little higher than coffee and doughnuts. Host a happy hour to introduce employees to any new leadership hires who’ve joined during the pandemic, or to offer face-time with the long-time leadership team. Make it a picnic, a field day, an office Olympics, an axe throwing competition or corn hole tournament — or anything else that gives them a fun reason to come back to the office.
Reactivate your Employee Resource Groups with in-person meetings, speakers or activities. Give people a reason to show up for each other, and to share their experiences with those who are also POC, LGBTQ+, single parents, veterans or people with disabilities. You might provide a budget for each group to hire a speaker, or combine forces to host an unconscious bias seminar for all your ERGs to participate in. The desire to support each other can motivate them to come back to the office to interact in person.
Most corporate volunteer programs have been on a forced hiatus during COVID. Bring employees together for a group volunteer activity in the office. For instance, you might engage Meals of Hope, Rise Against Hunger, or another organization that provides meal-packing events. They’ll bring all the ingredients for employees to pack meals for families in their own community, for schools, or for people in disaster areas. These events double as great team builders and a chance for employees to meet people outside their usual work groups.
Help employees ramp up their physical activity while getting to know more people at the office. If your city hosts a marathon, put together a training group with a coach and planned workouts that make it easy for employees to prepare — and helps them build friendships with other runners at work. If your office has outdoor trails nearby, you could do employee hikes after work as the days get longer. Equip some empty office space with Pilates equipment and bring in a great instructor, or spring for Peloton bikes and treadmills and pay for employee access to classes. Activities that are a little special or difficult to access from home might entice more employees to come back to the office on workout days.
The pandemic has been an interesting exercise in maintaining productivity while working remotely, but there are some aspects of culture and employee engagement that are tough to replicate without some time in person. The thoughts above might intrigue employees enough to get them back to the office and in the process refresh the face-to-face relationships that make being at work more fun. (For more ideas on building culture both in person and remotely, you might like this Forbes article: Preserving Culture in a Hybrid Environment.)
Interested in a fresh approach to employee engagement and culture? Tribe can help.