The Great Return: Attracting employees back to the office
employees back to the office

Covid-19 forced many non-essential workers out of the office and into their homes, but now most offices have reopened, and employers are welcoming their employees back to the office.

For some employees The Great Return, as it has been coined, is a welcome shift back to normality. However, most South African employees, according to a Michael Page survey, are not enticed to work a 5-day week in the office. 53% of participants are looking at a hybrid model of 3 or 4 remote days a week as an ideal work-from-home arrangement.

Why don’t employees want to come back to the office?


  • Health concerns
    Some employees feel that the risk of exposure to Covid-19 is too high when interacting with many people on a daily basis.

  • Flexibility and work-life balance
    Many employees have expressed that the flexibility to balance their work responsibilities with personal responsibilities has been a pleasure and has allowed for more family time.
  • Commute time and cost
    Getting employees back to the office means travel time and cost. With travel costs in South Africa on the rise, and many families taking a financial knock during the Covid-19 period, travel costs are a large portion of the employee’s apprehension to return to the office. Additionally, many employees are finding themselves frustrated with the time that is wasted sitting in traffic.

  • Productivity
    On the back of wasted time in traffic, many employees feel that they are far more productive at home and as discussed in the article Adapting to global recruitment, more than 50% cited that they feel more motivated to work.

  • Comfortable workspace
    Calling employees back to the office is removing them from the home workspace that they have created for themselves. For many, this space has been set up exactly how they find it most comfortable and is a place of focus time and concentration.

  • Pressure to present
    Many employees feel that at work there is pressure to act and present in a certain way to their colleagues. This requires energy and effort that is otherwise not required at home. Therefore, working from home comes with less anxiety and pressure.

Why do employers want employees to come back to the office? 

  • Company culture and connection
    A strong in-office culture allows for spontaneous talks, cross-functional mixing and collaboration – all of which can help to boost innovation. It also increases employees’ sense of belonging, which is regarded by many as an important metric for success.

  • Collaboration challenges
    Virtual collaboration can prove more challenging than in-person collaboration. From a lessened ability to interpret body language to internet connection issues. Communication can be delayed and less effective. It is not as easy as popping into a colleague’s office to discuss a minor issue when working from home.

  • Visibility and control
    A less common reason that employers are calling employees back to the office is the ability to control and maintain visibility over employees. This is controversial as many employees feel the control is unnecessary and micro-management while employers make the case that in some instances, productivity has decreased, and lack of visibility has caused peripheral issues for the business. 

How to attract employees back to the office


So, how do employers attract employees back to the office if the list of concerns is so extensive? The key is to listen and address. Forcing employees back to the office 5-days a week by reciting their employment contract back to them will destroy morale and positive culture. By listening to each concern and addressing them appropriately, employees are more likely to be excited by the prospect of returning to the office and this display of consideration for the employees’ concerns is likely to have a positive impact on their loyalty.

Get employees back to the office by replicating their home environment


If employees are experiencing benefits while working at home that they cannot find in the office, bring those benefits to the office.

A major benefit of working from home is the ability to create uninterrupted focus and quiet time. Replicate that in-office by setting up a space for focus time. This space should be isolated and quiet with a no-distraction, no-interruption policy.

Another benefit of working from home is the ability to take breaks that provide genuine rest and recharge. The mental health benefits of this are far-reaching. Create recharge spaces where employees can take their minds off the stress of their duties for a period so that when they return to their focus time they are fully charged.

Creating a buzz


In addition to bringing the benefits of working from home to the office, entice employees back to the office by offering something they can’t get at home. Connection.

Break the silos that are so often created by remote working. Create opportunities for different departments, functions, and levels of seniority to foster connection. Collaboration is key.

Take it a step further by getting HR involved. Set up a calendar. Carve out time for fun and share the calendar so that employees can plan. This also allows employers to ensure that there is a reasonable balance between work and play. Fun doesn’t always mean downtime for the office. Innovation workshops, brainstorming sessions, team building, and interdepartmental sharing sessions can increase connection while boosting productivity.

Don’t forget to make use of lunchtime. This is a time when employees typically connect. Amplify that time with engaging activities such as playing the local sports team’s latest match.

Get employees back to the office by creating a culture of convenience


To get employees back to the office, employers should consider that at home, they experience convenience. Can this convenience be brought to the office?

The convenience of time saved on travel, time set aside to make school runs, time to attend a medical appointment and time for other domestic tasks can be accommodated by a hybrid working model. Can these daily tasks be done at the office? Is there a potential for a gym, daycare or car wash facility at the office?

Because of reduced travel when working from home, many employees have expressed that financial compensation or organised transport could tempt them back to the office.

Make space for virtual collaboration. If there is no space for virtual collaboration in the office, the hybrid model will be ineffective. Allow for the physical space and the technology that fosters connection and productivity.

A final thought


The biggest mistake an organisation could make is to assume that their previous set-up and model will be adequate to take them forward. Changes need to be made to create an office environment that employees want to be in. A place where they do their best work.