Beware of executive mandates to return to the office when those mandates make no good business sense, notes a recent report from the London School of Economics. The report's author, Dr Grace Lordan, says that "firms that demand that their employees be in the office for no [good] reason will lose out” by seeing their top talent leave or becoming disengaged/quiet quitting. People, whether in the UK or elsewhere around the globe, won’t be forced into the office when coming in doesn’t serve their well-being, their workplace experience, or make good business sense.
Defining a Purpose for the Office (Hint: It’s People)
The LSE report highlights the biggest problem with mandates that ask people to come in “because the CEO says so" - there's no real purpose. People know they can collaborate with their teams on Zoom or MS Teams, and do immersive, independent work from home. The issue isn't with asking people to come into the office, it's about how it is presented.
Would you be more likely to go to a dinner party because someone said so or because you knew it was a chance to connect and socialize with other people. Business leaders have a real opportunity to engage people by using the office as a hub for collaboration and community. People, especially after a few years of social isolation, want to be with other people.
Research from Axios shows that 3 out of 4 employees miss their office community. An overwhelming 84% of employees would be motivated to come into the office if they knew they could socialize with coworkers. Nothing’s more disappointing than making a big effort to commute in only to find an empty office.
While seeing other people are the #1 reason people want to come into the office, there are plenty of valid challenges that prevent people making the commute. As one respondent said in the LSE report: “I think in terms of being in the office there is no substitute for being around your team, and having that ability to just quickly ask a question or ask somebody to read something over. But again, equally from my perspective now being a mum, it really helps me that I don’t have to commute every single day. I think it’s important to be in an environment where people understand your circumstances.”
How to Find Purpose for the Office: Listen to Your People
The LSE report makes it abundantly clear what business leaders should be doing to make the office attractive and give their people reasons to come in. “They should ask their team members, rather than going with their "gut" feelings,” says the report. Yes, it begins with listening and then responding to what you hear.
One mid-level manager quoted in the LSE report put it well: give people the autonomy to choose and trust them to do what’s best. "We get a lot more [productivity] from our people when they feel trusted . . . to make their own decisions.”
Workplace Technology: Enabling People to Come Together
The office needs to earn its place, so making it somewhere people want to gather is foundational for hybrid work. It comes down to empowering people with the autonomy to coordinate their schedules, enabling them to decide when they’d like to come together for in-office collaboration, activities, and socializing.
Mark Zuckerberg notwithstanding, people don’t want to spend all their time in some virtual metaverse. As one employee said in the LSE report: “There are some individuals who, from an emotional standpoint, need to be in the office. They need that environment and that social interaction because otherwise they are completely isolated at home.”
Connecting people is both essential and challenging, which is why the ability to coordinate schedules and see who else is coming into the office becomes such a foundational capability. When using Robin, for example, employees are 2.5x more likely to come into the office. Organizations simply must have a workplace experience app with desk/office booking capabilities to help them manage their office, but any workplace experience tool needs to offer three other capabilities:
- A user-friendly interface so people can seamlessly gain visibility into who’s coming in and easily coordinate their schedules,
- A powerful and continuous source of office usage data to help business leaders drive strategic decisions via timely insights, and
- A platform to foster meaningful connection and interaction among people.
When you combine a defined purpose for the office (btw, it’s people) with technology that enables people to come together, you have a successful hybrid work approach. Your people will be voting with their feet by coming into the office, not staying away.