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10 Ways To Convince Reluctant Employees To Return To Work

Is having people in the office better for business? While some employees are happy to come back, others are not as willing.

For a while, it looked like remote work was here to stay. Yet, as COVID cases fall and vaccine availability is now widespread, some employers have realized having people in the office is better for business. While some employees are happy to come back, others are not as willing.

Photo: Rick Grimaldi, Partner at FisherPhillips LLP | Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: Rick Grimaldi, Partner at FisherPhillips LLP | Source: Courtesy Photo

What’s an employer to do? Of course, you could force people to come back, but you don’t want to lose good employees—and frankly, it’s better for everyone if people don’t come back begrudgingly.

That’s why workplace trends expert Rick Grimaldi says the best approach is to convince the reluctant returners.

“We all know the old school command and control style of leadership doesn’t work any longer, and that includes the issue of determining where people work,” says Grimaldi, author of the new book FLEX: A Leader’s Guide to Staying Nimble and Mastering Transformative Change in the American Workplace. “Instead of dragging employees back against their will, it’s better to entice them with a collaborative, happy, innovative work environment they can’t resist.”

In other words, if you build the right case for coming back you can pull them in your direction—no pushing required.


Incentivizing employees to return to the office

Read on for ten strategies to incentivize your employees to come back to the office.


1. Ensure everyone understands the ‘why’.

Be very clear about your reasons for bringing people back to the office. If having people on-site increases productivity, share that. If profits took a nosedive once people moved to remote work, be transparent and give them the facts. When you level with them about your reasoning instead of giving a command with no explanations, people are more likely to respect those reasons and comply.


2. If you changed your mind, address it.

Some companies are now seeing the value of having people in the office. Be honest about this. Tell employees: “We didn’t realize at first that face-to-face interaction was so pivotal to our success. The past year has shown us that it really is.” They will appreciate your candor.


3. Make your workplace a place they want to be.

Employees don’t want to work in offices with bad company cultures. Unfortunately, many workplaces were unhealthy prior to the pandemic, and employees may now fear returning to their former toxic, drama-filled, high-stress work environment.

It’s not too late to cultivate a company culture where people want to be. Focus on building collegiate, close-knit, trusting, inclusive, and uplifting teams that inspire a sense of belonging in people. When people feel they have a “tribe” they will want to come to work. After all, camaraderie is the antidote to burnout—something many remote workers are currently suffering from.


4. Add policies that make sense for today’s workplace. Jettison those that don’t.

The pandemic changed a lot about the way we work. Organizations found ways to digitally transform overnight, companies shifted to remote work and flexed to stay afloat. In some cases, those changes and new habits have made the workday run more smoothly.

Figure out which of the new practices you adopted during the pandemic are worth maintaining—and which old practices you can let go for good. For example, if you got rid of your daily morning meetings during work from home and opted to meet twice a week instead, you might make that change permanent.


5. Talk with people one-on-one to understand their hesitancy to come back to the office.

A candid discussion with individual employees can help you dig deeper to find out why they may not want to return. Is it a childcare or eldercare issue? Is it about safety? Is it something else entirely? Their reasons may not even be what you think they are. But once you understand their reservation, you may be able to help them manage their concerns or solve the problem.

“One-on-one interviews can help you get a sense of where people are coming from,” says Grimaldi. “You can learn who is burned out, who might be planning to leave, and who has new ideas around the future of work in the post-COVID era. It’s a great way to take peoples’ temperature and work together to find solutions to make the transition back easier on everyone.”


6. Make a case for mentoring opportunities.

Remote workers don’t get a lot of face time with leaders who could give them valuable career insights. Further, younger remote workers are less likely to pick up strong communication and professional skills, establish career goals, and build a network that they can rely on for years to come.

However, mentoring opportunities are abundant in an office setting. Young workers will benefit from the incredible wisdom and experience of senior employees, and more seasoned employees can rely on millennials and Gen Zers to help them develop digital skills, learn to use social media for marketing campaigns, and adjust to an increasingly diverse and inclusive work environment.


7. Play up the return of trust.

It can be difficult to build trust-based work relationships when people only communicate over Zoom meetings and email. Without daily face-to-face interactions, people never get to know their colleagues and build strong relationships. Spending time with colleagues at work allows for informal exchanges that help people get to know one another and eventually build trust.


8. Highlight the power of in-person collaboration

Collaboration is necessary for innovation. Chances are your employees aren’t getting a lot of chances to collaborate remotely. The best brainstorming and innovation happens in person—and anyone who wants to hustle and harness that creative energy will be eager to show up in person to do so.


9. Offer more flexibility around when and where people work.

During the past year, many employees have gotten used to being able to pick up their kids from school or take an aging parent to medical appointments. Naturally, they don’t want to give this up. The solution may be to offer a hybrid model that allows people to be in the office part-time and remote part-time. Or consider allowing them to be flexible with stop and start times.

Often, you can set up a system that works for both leaders and employees. Leaders can get the facetime they need to manage and ensure workers are productive, and employees get more of the work-life integration that they crave. Finally, by staggering schedules and shifts, or allowing a hybrid model, you can meet your goals while keeping people as safe as possible.


10. Make workplace safety a top priority.

Despite COVID cases falling nationwide, some states lag in vaccinations, while emerging variants and vaccine breakthrough infections are a valid cause for concern for employees regarding their safety at work.

To ensure you are complying with established safety practices, check out guidelines posted by OSHA and the CDC. A laser focus on safety not only helps companies prevent disability and discrimination claims and avoid OSHA fines, it sets them up to recruit and retain top talent.

“Not only will these strategies entice people to come back to the office more quickly, they will also help your organization attract top talent,” concludes Grimaldi. “When you make your business a place people want to work, you are more likely to maintain the competitive edge that leads to innovation, creativity, and success.”


Rick Grimaldi is a workplace trends expert and the author of FLEX: A Leader’s Guide to Staying Nimble and Mastering Transformative Change in the American Workplace. Rick’s unique perspective comes from his diverse career in high-ranking public service positions, as a human resources and labor relations professional for an international hi-tech company, and presently in private practice as a partner with Fisher Phillips, LLP, one of America’s preeminent management side labor and employment law firms. Day to day, Rick works with companies to help them adapt to the ever-changing business environment, achieve their workplace goals, and become better employers. Rick is an internationally recognized writer and keynote speaker, and has been selected through a peer review process as one of The Best Lawyers in America© in three of the last four years.


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