The office work environment is in a greater state of flux than almost ever before. After millions of office employees quickly being transitioned to remote work, we are facing a point where companies are considering long-term changes – and considering to what extent employees should be brought back to the office.
While the change from office work to remote work was imposed on many companies in 2020, the transition from remote work back to the office is much more in companies control. Unlike the covid induced transition in 2020, the transition back to the office has a lot more options – and unknowns. Things that were roadblocks just a few years ago (e.g., securely accessing work networks) have at least been overcome or worked around. Employees have also got used to working at home – and in many cases may adjustments to satisfy companies.
While the decision in 2020 to move to remote work was one that neither employees nor companies had much choice about, the move back has some element of choice around it. And as such, there is greater reasons to involve employees in the decision process.
Policies determined by others can feel imposed
On the surface, this seems obvious – that policies decided by top management, with no involvement of lower management can feel imposed. However, this is often forgotten, and management may not realize the impact that making decisions themselves, and implementing them down on employees can feel very imposed.
Management may be used to making decisions without involving employees (although there may be substantial benefits for employee buy-in to strategy issues). For many decisions they may not face much pushback – employees may not buy-in, but may also not outwardly criticize what is being asked. For substantial changes to the office environment that may not hold – substantial changes that do impact the day-to-day lives of employees can create substantial ill feelings.
They are integral to your firm - and the best employees have options
It is important to recognize that employees do have options – and large changes that impact their daily routines can cause a lot of uncertainty and negative consequences on morale. To have a sudden substantial change in your work environment imposed on you (especially if you felt that your current effort and output were working) can feel a bit shocking. Having worked at home successfully for a year, suddenly being told to come back to the office can invoke the feeling of ‘are you kidding me’?
Employees can likey recognize things that can be improved
As well as anticipating or avoiding negative feelings associated with changes in the working environment, it is also likely that employees can recognize ways that the work environment can be improved. Even if you plan on continuing a work from home approach, there are likely many lessons after a year or more that can be used to improve the setup. Getting their insight into what is and what is not working can help make adjustments to the office arrangements.
Different employees face different challenges
Canvassing insight from different employees is also important because not everyone has the same experience. What some people may much prefer working from home, others miss some of the social elements of the office environment. Making an assumption for what all employees would want is unlikely to result in an optimal decision – there is likely to be some variations in attitudes that are important to explore.