The Return to Office is Here (again): 3 Tips for Better Workplace Experiences

Sabrina Dorronsoro
Sabrina Dorronsoro
Published on 
9.9.2022

office experience

The return to the office is here. Again? As students settle back into the classroom, professionals are making their way out of the home office and into their company’s HQs. This time around, leaders are taking what they’ve learned from previous return-to-office attempts and aiming to create workplace strategies that embrace choice while still promoting the importance of connection. 

The conversation, from the outside looking in, suggests that this entire office vs. no-office debate is a battle to be won. But what the media often forgets is that this debate isn’t employer vs. employee, it’s all of us trying to figure out what works best as we reintegrate more fully back into our working schedules. 

If two years of video calls and Zoom happy hours taught us anything, it’s that there’s an intangible value that comes from in-person work. Some people will always prefer the fully remote route and there is plenty of validity there. Yet, for many people and companies, the in-person element of a job is also a social part of their lives. 

Connecting with coworkers, collaborating on a project or just grabbing a coffee with someone between meetings - all of these encounters work together to create community within a workplace. And, let’s face it, don’t we all want more than just a paycheck out of our jobs? 

The Value of In-Person Work 

The pandemic showed us the viability of a less rigid approach to work. At first, remote was the only option as lockdowns hit and health guidelines were put in place. During that time, the reports of loneliness skyrocketed. The lack of any in-office option highlighted just how much of a role the workplace plays in our social lives. Without the daily routines of the office, our main interactions took place with our housemates or partners or pets. 

The impact of in-person experiences goes beyond just social interactions too, peer-to-peer connections lead to better relationships and better business outcomes. A sense of belonging in the workplace can lead to a 56% increase in job performance and a 50% reduction in turnover risk, according to a study by BetterUp. 

Humans are hardwired for connection. We seek out community. In the modern era, our workplaces play a big role in our sense of belonging. The work we do, the goals we create, the targets we hit; these pieces of our professional lives bring all sorts of people together under a common mission. 

As we continue to navigate hybrid work, the conversation around the office needs to shift. It’s important not to forget that the fully-remote side of the spectrum doesn’t solve for the human need for social interaction. These physical spaces are resources for connection. Leaders need to set the stage for relationships between coworkers to flourish while still keeping individual choice front of mind. So how can leaders start creating collaborative workplaces that balance these needs? 

Creating Purpose-Driven Workplaces

Workplace experience is where we start. You can’t expect people to want to come into an office if they’re not getting any value out of these in-person moments. From resources like desks and tech to better visibility into who will be in office when, it’s important to give your teams the tools they need to connect, collaborate and succeed. Those experiences are what bring shared purpose back into the equation.

In fact, according to The Institute of Labor Economics, 60% of meaningfulness at work comes from non-economic factors, coming from autonomy (that one has choices & authority over tasks), competence (a feeling of mastery), and relatedness (connection to others).

The challenge here is creating spaces, processes and guidelines that honor employee choice while still embracing the power of in-person collaboration. Over the past couple of years companies of all sizes have largely been playing a game of trial and error. These stalled processes didn’t leave much room for individual choice. 

As we settle into (hopefully) the final return-to-office push, companies should focus on enabling employees to make informed decisions about their schedules. The connections they make in these spaces will nurture a wider sense of belonging. 

3 Tips for Better Hybrid Workplace Experiences

That leaves us with one big question: What should leaders focus on in order to provide teams with the most fulfilling experiences? We know the major difference between a home office and a company’s office is usually the people in it. It’s time to recognize the workplace as the social tool it is, here’s how to start.

1. Remember Connection Drives Attendance 

Your people want to know the context of the office on any given day. Who will be in the office, when? What events are happening next week? Help your teams paint a fuller picture of office activity so they can coordinate their work week in a way that best suits them. 

The workplace technology you have in place is the connective tissue between teams in different locations. It’s critical to find tools and solutions that give people all of the information they need to work in the right environment. If people can’t connect with one another effectively, how are they going to create the bonds that make them feel truly a part of the organization? 

2. Prioritize People & Shared Purpose 

People are what make or break your workplace. While layout changes and policy changes help reimagine your spaces, you need to consider the entire experience and how it impacts your teams. Can they check into the office easily? How do they access office information? Would they come back again? 

Leaders need to embed people-first values at every level of the organization, that starts with listening, observing and learning. Make it clear to your teams that you are open to feedback, ask intentional questions about their experiences and use that information to improve your spaces and processes. 

3. Embrace Hybrid Work as a Process, Not a Project

Hybrid work isn’t a one-off project, it’s a process that needs to be evaluated regularly. Many companies, understandably, treated hybrid work as a singular event. Yet the more we learn about flexibility and the current state of work, the more it becomes clear that hybrid work is an iterative process. 

Look at your workplace data, make some conclusions and try some fresh approaches. A few months later, do the same thing all over again. There is no perfect model for hybrid work, there is only what you see, what you learn and what you end up doing. 

Ready to re-evaluate your workplace plans? Download our Hybrid Work 101 Guide for step-by-step solutions and free planning templates for your team.