Returning to the Office? 3 Tips for Keeping Your Team Connected Amid RTO

  • Author: Melanie Haniph

Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer, and for many, it’s the official end of full-time remote work. Return-to-office (RTO) policies are in full swing and show no signs of stopping.

Several companies—Zoom, AT&T, Meta, and Amazon, to name a few—returned their employees to the office following Labor Day this year. And there will be others. According to Jones Lang Lasalle research, an estimated 2.5 million employees will return to the office in some capacity by the end of 2023.

If your team is among the millions headed back to the office this year, you want it to be positive and ultimately help everyone communicate and connect more deeply than ever before. Here are three things you can do to help employees adjust and stay connected amid their return to on-site work:

1. Expect Employee Resistance and Respond With Empathy

After a long period of growing accustomed to remote work, not having a commute, and having more control over their time, it’s not unusual, or surprising, for employees to be unhappy about returning to their old routine. Any kind of change can be hard, but changing from home to the office, even on a hybrid schedule, can be difficult for employees, especially those who also have to make alternative family caregiving arrangements.

If you experience resistance from employees, you’re not alone. A Conference Board survey found that 73% of organizations reported difficulty getting employees back into the office. If you’re one of them, there are opportunities to show empathy for the challenges employees face in returning to work. By trying to see RTO from the employee perspective, you can build understanding and trust, which will help you establish a stronger, more connected relationship. You can do this by:

  • Communicating often about the challenges and opportunities of returning to the office
  • Asking employees how they’re coping with the change
  • Being patient with employee attitudes and performance during the transition

2. Don’t Assume In-Person Equates to Connection

While on-site work certainly makes it easier for employees to connect face-to-face, it doesn’t automatically result in deep employee connections that support a better work experience and culture. In fact, our research on employee connections revealed that workplace connections aren’t driven so much by location, but by experiences that help employees feel valued and provide a sense of belonging. 

Just as employees can be disconnected from their work and coworkers when working from home, the same can be true when they’re working on-site. Therefore, as you return to the office, keep up the same connection-building activities you hopefully practiced before: 

  • Hold regular one-on-one meetings with direct reports
  • Engage in lively discussion and debate during team meetings
  • Keep rewards and recognition aligned with employee efforts and results
  • Provide opportunities for employees to periodically connect on an informal basis, for example, with fun teambuilding and after-work activities

3. Lead With Flexibility

Part of returning to the office is also determining how in-person work works best for your team. If you’re returning to the office on a hybrid arrangement, it may seem like a no-brainer to reserve in-office time for meetings and save more creative, independent work for days when the team is working remotely. But another arrangement may make more sense if team members aren’t all in the office on the same days or if you’re on-site every day. Either way, you’ll need to be flexible in determining which setup helps team members stay connected and aligned on team goals. Additional ways you can lead with flexibility include:

  • Giving hybrid employees autonomy in deciding which days of the week they’ll work in the office
  • Implementing periodic no-meeting work days as a way to help employees catch up on critical projects and other work
  • Making it okay for employees to block certain hours of the day for independent work, whether they’re at home or in the office

Building workplace connections requires deliberate action no matter where employees are working. But when you’re making a change as dramatic as returning to the office after years of being remote, now is the time to make a special effort to make the transition a smooth one. 
For more insights to help you build a more connected team, read our Employee Connections Study and follow us on LinkedIn for the latest updates.

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