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What Gets Employees to The Office?

Chuck Leddy
Published on

People are coming back to the office. Robin’s Return to Office 2024 report shows that nearly 70% of employees surveyed said their organizations had a return to the office mandate in place, requiring them to spend an average of 3 days a week onsite. 

But issuing a mandate by itself won’t get your people to come in. For example, 45% of the employees Robin surveyed had an RTO mandate requiring them to be in the office at least 4 days a week. But less than a quarter (24%) of those same employees reported being in the office at least 4 days a week, meaning that 76% of them were technically out of compliance with their RTO mandate. 

The office experience your organization provides – including your amenities, physical layouts, policies, incentives, workplace technology, and more – will have a large impact on whether people actually come in or not. Here's what you need to know to motivate hybrid and remote workers.

Evidence-Based Incentives to Get Employees Back into the Office

There’s no simple answer for how to get your people back into the office because the incentives and policies that work for one organization may not work for another. That said, any RTO approach must be built upon an evidence-based understanding of what factors keep your people away from the office and what draws them in. 

It’s, therefore, essential to have an ongoing process of collecting employee feedback on your workplace strategy so you can drive continuous improvement. In order to help, Robin recently surveyed nearly 600 full-time employees at companies embracing flexible work and flexible working hours, asking what stops them from coming in, what attracts them, and what happens while they’re onsite. 

The key findings from our report are the focus of this blog post.

What Keeps People Away: The Remote Work Revolution

Any workplace today is in stiff competition with people’s home-office set-up. People don’t necessarily enjoy getting dressed in business attire, spending time commuting, booking office space and equipment, making arrangements for lunch, and more. Many people prefer commuting from their bedroom to the couch, perhaps attired in sweatpants.  

All stereotypes aside, for many modern professionals, a better work life balance isn't a nice-to-have, it's a non-negotiable. Hybrid workers expect organizations to offer some balance of working in person and working remotely. Understanding the barriers that stand between people and the office is, however, critical for crafting an effective return to office plan.

1. Time spent commuting

It’s no surprise, for instance, that our report found that commuting-related challenges (traffic, parking) typically keep people away from the office, with the following specific barriers being cited:

  • Commute is too long (reported by 41%)
  • Gas prices are too high (32%)
  • Parking is too expensive (20%)

2. Friction points with office resources

Another commonly reported roadblock for coming in? People are often frustrated by the friction and hassle related to booking a desk or a meeting room. Accessing needed office equipment was another roadblock, with 89% of people spending up to 20 minutes looking for the right equipment when they get into the office.

3. Perceived productivity at home

Almost half (46%) of the employees we surveyed said the reason they don’t come into the office is that they believe they’re more productive working at home, aka remote work. Overcoming these obstacles to people coming in means removing as much friction and time-consuming manual processes from the office experience as you possibly can. Preparing your office with productivity in mind is, interestingly enough, often one of top incentives to get employees back into the office.

What Pulls Paid Employees into the Office?

While employees may be hesitant to come into the office, once they do get there, they feel more connected to their teams. In fact, 73% of respondents reported feeling more connected to their company when in-office with their colleagues, yet 64% of people feel indifferent when their teams are in the office without them.

Like many things in life, the things that are most worth doing can feel difficult at first. No one wants to make the trip to the gym, but don't we all feel better after we have? A few days in the office each week is not only good for our social health but also our mental well-being. Here's what really moved the needle for hybrid employees.

Seeing other people

Employees aren’t children who will happily and immediately come into the office “because the CEO says so.” The good news? People recognize the business and social value of coming together in person, and they actually yearn to connect. In fact, 73% of surveyed employees felt more connected to their company and their colleagues when onsite.

Accessing office incentives

Other than the opportunity to collaborate and meet colleagues, what else pulls people into the office? The top two incentives were office perks (44%), like catered lunch or on-site services, and coverage of commuter costs (39%).

When companies can support their teams with stipends to offset the cost of the city, people are more likely to make the trip. In fact, 53% of respondents would need anywhere from $50 to $75 to make the trip to the office.

Preventing Productivity Loss with Office Resource Management

Organizations that want people in the office should carefully consider how to provide a positive office experience. If people feel they can't be as productive in the physical workplace, then the battle to motivate remote workers is as good as done.

Part of this balancing act means removing some obvious friction in physical offices This includes removing some obvious workplace friction, such as:

  • Office layouts that don’t support how your people prefer to work
  • Frustration in accessing/booking desks and meeting spaces
  • Noise that prevents people from doing immersive, focused work

As one employee in our report explained: “We have an open office environment, and it is so noisy that I cannot get work done . . .An open office environment may work for some, but not for me.” 

Spending lots of time manually booking (or looking for) available office space is another pain point that diminishes productivity and kills the office experience. Some findings of our report:

  • With companies that didn’t use desk booking software, 62% of surveyed employees said they spend up to 10 minutes looking for a free desk.
  • For companies that don’t use meeting room booking software, 74% of employees said it takes them up to 10 minutes to find a free meeting room.

These numbers reveal a lot of frustrated employees spending time and energy booking spaces rather than working. When you add that lost time and hair-pulling frustration onto long commutes and noisy, distracting office environments, you can fully understand why a good office experience is so fundamental for productivity, engagement, and attracting people onsite.

Key Recommendations: Office Incentives and Resourcing

Our report concludes with four big recommendations for “re-connecting” your people with the office.

From quieting concerns over work-life balance to ensuring professional development opportunities and key-in-office perks - there are a range of ways to ensure employee productivity, encourage collaboration and support equitable hybrid work arrangements. You’ll have to read the full report to learn all of the details, but here are a couple of suggestions.

Resource your office effectively

A lot of respondents remain concerned about their individual productivity in the office. From not having the right desk setup to finding a free room for a call - leaders need to invest time and resources into creating office experiences that support productive workdays, not hinder them.

Find ways to offset costs for employees

When employers work to offset the cost of coming into the city, teams are more likely to work in person. Things like commuter benefits or free food can be an effective way to encourage employees to embrace in-person work.

Never forget that your office is constantly competing with people’s WFH setups. The more friction and frustration associated with people coming onsite, the more likely they’ll work from home.

Itching for more insights? Read the full Return to Office 2024 report.

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Return to Office Report 2024