- The “new normal” for many companies includes work-from-home setups that let employees work remotely instead of reporting to an office.
- Since the world began recovering from the pandemic, many businesses have considered a return-to-office mandate requiring employees to revert to conventional in-person work.
- Businesses must weigh the advantages and disadvantages of reverting to an in-person office arrangement, considering their industry and specific concerns.
- This article is for business owners and managers deciding whether to mandate a return to the office or maintain their current remote and hybrid working arrangements.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a significant shift in business processes worldwide, recalibrating working setups across many, if not all, industries. The conventional in-person nine-to-five setup was scrapped in favor of remote work, otherwise known as a work-from-home (WFH) setup.
As the pandemic became more controlled, companies adopted more flexible working policies. While WFH arrangements still existed, hybrid work arrangements grew popular, allowing employees to go into the office on specific days while working remotely on others.
However, some businesses are eyeing a return to a conventional in-office setup — and not everyone is happy. We’ll look at the “return to office” push and explain how to evaluate whether your business should continue embracing remote work trends and hybrid arrangements or mandate a return to traditional office work.
A telecommuting policy should address who is eligible to work from home, set expectations about hours, and help workers set up a secure home office.
Returning to the office has received mixed reactions
Not all workers embraced and fully adapted to the demands of working from home. However, WFH setups offer advantages that make them ideal for much of America’s workforce — whether or not there’s a pandemic.
As some employers contemplate mandating a return to the office, their employees fall into three primary camps:
- Workers who don’t want to go back to the office. Working from home brings flexibility, freedom and many options for customizing working patterns. Some people are against the idea of completely returning to the office because they’ll have to relinquish these benefits. They prefer that their employer make telecommuting permanent.
- Workers who welcome a return to the office. Some employees favor the idea of reverting to working onsite because of the standardization and motivation it offers. The field is leveled for everyone to perform, and employees are able to build more meaningful relationships when working face-to-face.
- Workers who favor hybrid setups. Some workers appreciate a hybrid working setup that reaps the benefits of both options. However, hybrid setups aren’t always possible for specific jobs, businesses and industries.
As businesses face decisions about their working setups, they must weigh the advantages and disadvantages of a return to the office.
Cloud computing facilitated the rise of remote work by allowing users to access files and specialized applications as if they were in the office.
Advantages of returning to the office
The “new normal” way of working — allowing employees to work in various environments — has benefitted many businesses and their employees. However, returning to the office also has unique perks.
Here are some benefits of returning to an in-office setup that may help businesses determine if a return-to-office mandate is what they need to thrive and grow.
1. Returning to office work will reduce distractions.
Working in an office reduces many of the common productivity-killing distractions that affect a home office. Office environments tend to be quieter, more focused, and more structured than a WFH setup, where kids, neighbors, pets and so on may interrupt workflow.
Global Car Accessories owner Muhammed Alkhudri agrees that it can be challenging to concentrate at home. “I have tried to work from home, and I still to this day do that sometimes, but the distractions become much more compelling when you work from home,” Alkhudri noted.
While office environments differ, returning to in-office work often means you’ll be in surroundings designed to ensure as few distractions as possible to boost productivity.
Distracted workers cost businesses time and money, leading to productivity loss, inefficiency and overpayment for labor.
2. Office work creates a definitive line between work and personal life.
Working from home means performing your corporate duties where many other things occur. Some workers may do their employers and families a disservice by splitting their focus. Too often, the line separating work life and personal life becomes blurry, creating a lopsided work-life balance with adverse effects all around.
When employees work in a structured office environment, that can help them succinctly define and achieve their goals without other factors — such as family problems and outside commitments — getting in the way.
3. Corporate guidelines can be implemented more effectively in an office.
WFH setups give employees more freedom to choose and customize their working behavior. While employees may consider this a benefit, the business may suffer if their choices are at odds with corporate goals and guidelines and the company’s mission.
Business owners and managers must standardize business processes and implement corporate policies to ensure the organization’s goals are met and objectives are achieved. These processes and standards are much easier to implement and enforce in an office setting than when managing a remote workforce.
An onsite setup makes it easy for businesses to do the following:
- Ensure employees aren’t late for work
- Organize, distribute and delegate responsibilities fairly
- Accommodate leave requests
- Properly handle HR functions like sick time and PTO
- Handle disciplinary actions
Having everyone in the same office also offers more opportunities for team-building and camaraderie, which can improve employee engagement, collaboration, productivity and company culture.
Disadvantages of returning to the office
Mandating a return to the office may present disadvantages that ultimately cause excellent employees to leave. Here are two reasons why employees and some companies are against the idea of returning to the office.
1. Catching COVID-19 is still a possibility.
Some employees are hesitant to return to the office because they don’t want to risk exposure to COVID-19 and other illnesses. They may have underlying health conditions or family members for whom COVID-19 presents devastating risks.
While many businesses instituted in-office vaccine requirements, COVID-19 hasn’t been eliminated, and employees want to be shown respect regarding their health-related decisions.
Businesses also face COVID-19-related issues. COVID-19-positive cases in the office present added expenses and risks. It’s crucial to evaluate whether your operation has the resources to recover from a COVID-19-induced shutdown.
2. A return-to-office mandate is inflexible.
A return-to-office mandate leaves no flexibility for employees, managers and the overall organization.
- Employees can’t work when they’re most productive. For example, some employees are more productive on specific days or certain times. While a WFH setup can accommodate a flexible schedule, an in-office arrangement likely can’t. “[Working from home] allows me to work at my own pace and start a project in the most productive time of the day,” shared Perry Zheng, software engineer and founder and CEO of Cash Flow Portal.
- Employees can’t work when it’s most convenient. Additionally, employees used to hybrid and WFH setups enjoy flexible work policies that allow them to work hours convenient to their lifestyle. They may start work a little later to accommodate taking their children to school or work in the evenings so they can spend time caring for family. A return-to-office mandate effectively eliminates this perk many employees have grown to depend on.
- Employee work quality may decline. If you can’t work when you’re most productive and when it’s most convenient for you, your work quality may decline, and you may become less productive.
- Businesses may lose excellent employees. The importance of flexibility to high-achieving employees can’t be overstated. According to Buffer’s 2023 State of Remote Work, 91 percent of employees say flexibility is the biggest perk of remote work. For this reason, the biggest downside to inflexible return-to-office mandates is the risk of losing top talent.
Research from Ergotron says remote workers are more productive, enjoy an improved work-life balance, and have healthier lifestyles.
Business type and industry are crucial considerations
When exploring whether your company should ask employees to return to working onsite, consider the type of business you run. Remote work isn’t an option for businesses that require in-person, customer-facing employees. If your office frequently welcomes clients, having staff onsite is necessary.
Other businesses have more flexibility. Let’s say you sell online via an e-commerce shop. You have few storage needs and outsource shipping and order fulfillment to a third party. In this case, bringing employees back to an office may not be necessary. There’s no need to incur the expense of a commercial lease.
Ultimately, you’ll need to weigh your business’s unique needs and culture before mandating a return to the office. Business owners shouldn’t feel pressured by trends or what other companies are doing. Doing what’s best for your organization — and protecting your employees and resources — is most important.
Conduct employee surveys to determine how your team feels about working at home vs. returning to the office. Meeting the needs of your top achievers can foster loyalty and employee retention.
Find the right work arrangement for your business
Returning to the office after years of working from home or in a hybrid setup is a huge step. Many businesses can make a case for returning to the office. In fact, this step is inevitable for some.
However, some organizations may benefit from a hybrid arrangement where some workers report onsite and some work remotely. Offering the best of both worlds may positively impact your employees and the entire organization.
Business owners must carefully balance the needs of their organization and consider their employees’ best interests before mandating a return to the office.