Like many employers, we want our employees to return on-site, but don’t want to force them to return and have many of them quit. We want our employees to want to return. How do we do that?


An October 30th Wall Street Journal article reported, “There is a magical land where the temperature is always 72 degrees, the Wi-Fi never goes down, and there is always someone to talk to.”1 Except—Multiple surveys show few employees want to return full time to that magical land, their former workplace. Many employees want to work from home three or more days a week.1

If you’re an employer, how do you change that?

Envoy/Wakefield’s August 2021 online survey of one thousand U.S. employees2 and Leanin’s June to August 2021 survey of over sixty-five thousand employees3 offer suggestions for employers that want their employees to return. According to these surveys, employees that returned to their employer’s offices noted these advantages: on-site work:

  • separates work from home life (46 percent);
  • makes it easier to collaborate in person (44 percent);
  • enables employees to see work friends (39 percent);
  • provides face time with managers (39 percent), and
  • provides better Wi-Fi and desk ergonomics (32 percent).

Clearly on-site work has advantages, however, do your employees see them? Here’s what I recommend. Ask your employees for their answers in a way that helps them remember what they once liked about working on-site and lets them know you won’t force them to return to a work environment that no longer meets their needs. Bring your employees for a two-hour meeting, with snacks, and ask them questions such as “What do you enjoy most and least about working remotely?”; “What needs to change or be different at the workplace for you to want to return;” “What do you miss about the workplace?”

Listen to their answers. Here’s what I suspect you’ll discover, along with suggestions for altering your workplace to fit what you learn. Employees don’t want to return to the former normal. They will, however, give their employer a chance to make changes if they see them happening quickly and in response to their views.

Employees care about safety protocols. Let your employees know the safeguards you’ve put in place, such as requiring everyone to get vaccinated or tested weekly, upgraded ventilation systems or air purifiers, physically distanced workstations, touchless equipment, sanitation procedures and self-cleaning surfaces, and weekly deep cleaning.

Employees have discovered and now crave workday flexibility. Does your workday need to remain eight to five or can you allow employees to work a split day so parents can pick up their children at school and finish their work at home? Can you give non-parents similar freedom? Can you structure tasks that require interdependent work and team collaboration during work hours when most employees are on site, and allow employees to work remotely on tasks done best in isolation?

Employees resent commute time. Can you incorporate flex time and allow employees to choose when they go into the office?   

Many employees feel more comfortable in casual wear. Can you relax your dress code?

Your employees’ discussion will remind many that while they’re cozy at home, at-home offices have downsides such as uncomfortable workstations, unpredictable Wi-Fi, inefficient printers, interruptions from kids, and the lack of people whose jobs include making technology work.

During the meeting, announce any improvements you plan to make to make your company workspace more inviting, whether that’s protein bars and fresh fruit in the breakroom, a new Nespresso machine, or high-resolution monitors for anyone who works in the office more than a couple of days a week.  

The meeting itself will remind what they missed — each other and a sense of shared purpose.

Finally, managers that hope to supervise employees as they did pre-pandemic will come up short and may benefit from the actionable strategies described in Managing for Accountability: A Business Leader’s Toolbox, Effective managers can recognize and reward employees who accomplish strong results, whether on-site or working remotely. They can spot and deal with employees don’t hold up their end of the deal and either need to return on-site full-time or be blessed out the door.

Our lives have changed; our workplaces need to change, and so do we.




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2 thoughts on “How Employers Can Lure Employees Back to the Office

  1. Lynn, I know one of your primary audiences is Alaska. One thing employers may want to consider in any market, but I’m specifically thinking of Anchorage right now where there is the single highway in and out, is commute time. Most folks have zero interest in driving 2+ hours a day to get to work, which is what commuters from Eagle River, Chugiak and the Valley face during rush hour. And if the highway gets messed up with a traffic accident, there’s no route around it, and it could be 3 or more hours on the highway one way as you crawl along. As an employee facing that commute, what I would hope for would be a more flexible arrival/leave time. So, for example, rather than working 8am-5pm and being stuck in that rat race every day, could I work instead from 10am to 7pm, or from 6am to 3pm? And thus at least likely reduce my time on the road by missing the throng of traffic. And if there is an accident on the highway, or particularly inclement weather, on those days could I work from home. That would be an incentive for me.

  2. Dee, absolutely. I’ve long advocated for staggered arrival/departure times to avoid the awkward commute. Thanks for writing:)

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