5 unexpected incentives to get employees back into the office – willingly

Viesturs Abelis 6.02.2024
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Employers are increasingly searching for incentives to get employees back into the office because, three years after the pandemic, the remote work vs in-office work debate still rages on. 

Most employers want workers in the office. Most employees want to work from home at least some of the time. 

In this tug of war, everyone’s trying to ground their position in objective facts. Return-to-office (RTO) proponents point to studies that say in-office work is more productive, but the work-from-home (WFH) camp is armed with different studies that suggest the opposite. RTOs say communication suffers in remote teams, and WFHs agree, but see it as an adequate trade-off for improved mental health and better work-life balance. 

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There is probably no single correct answer to the RTO vs WFH debate. Different people thrive in different environments, different jobs demand different ways of working, and different benefits appeal to different individuals. 

Still, that leaves us at an impasse: 

  • the overwhelming majority of employees (98%) enjoy remote work at least some of the time, and
  • the overwhelming majority of CEOs (90%) want their employees back in the office at least some of the time. 

So, what to do, if you want your employees back into the office?

man wondering how to get employees excited about returning to the office

Stick or carrot?

For most companies, forcing full RTO is a scary option – there’s a real risk of employees quitting en masse. Even if just a handful of people leave, it’s usually your best employees that have the most options, and losing them can leave a company in disarray. 

Moreover, it may be challenging to fill out the newly-opened positions, as many top candidates primarily seek openings with remote options

So, if the stick is too dangerous to use, then how about the carrot?

After all, there are people who come into the office happily, even if it’s for a few days a week. Some commonly cited reasons include:

  • Face-to-face socializing with peers
  • Combating loneliness
  • Spontaneous collaboration
  • Improved creativity
  • Fewer distractions and boosted productivity

Any boss looking to see their employees back into the office should emphasize the value of such benefits. But even these may prove insufficient, as some people are more creative at home, others have no issue with remote socializing, and others yet find their productivity at its highest when working remotely. 

So, let’s sweeten the deal even further – here are 5 additional unexpected incentives to get employees back into the office. 

1. Better work-life balance… in the office?

There’s a remote work paradox – on one hand, people enjoy remote work for flexibility and better work-life balance; on the other, remote workers frequently engage in work tasks, such as checking emails, outside of work hours. 

Coming into the office can help physically separate work from life. The structured environment of the office, with designated workstations and clear boundaries, can encourage employees to switch off from work-related tasks once they leave for the day. 

Often, the flexibility people enjoy with remote work can also be (partially) adapted to office life. For instance, having flexible working hours, where people can start their day earlier or later, may give office workers the control over their time they so desire, thus being a great way how to get employees excited about returning to the office.

2. A better place for work, physically

Having a well-equipped working space is important for productivity and well-being. While most companies tend to offer a budget for setting up your home workspace, it’s difficult to match the conveniences of the office – ergonomic chairs, external displays, printers, local tech support, quiet meeting rooms, and more. 

man working at a standing desk as one of the ideas to get employees back to the office

Moreover, not everyone has the space at home to set up a dedicated home office, so makeshift solutions are often employed, e.g. working at the dinner table. While harmless if done occasionally, working in suboptimal conditions for prolonged periods of time can impact people’s physical and mental well-being. 

By investing in high-quality office equipment and design, companies can turn them into a place where employees work more efficiently and enjoy the time they spend there, serving as a good strategy for how to bring employees back to the office. 

3. Access to mentorship & feedback

Communication is often cited as one of the biggest struggles of remote work – everyone knows the frustration of when you need someone’s input and you have no idea where they are or when they’ll be back. 

While this shouldn’t be a problem if you follow proper remote work etiquette, let’s be real, it is still an issue and a big one. Not just for overall company efficiency, but for personal productivity, as well. 

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Accordingly, having key people (mentors and teammates) in the office can serve as a key way how to get other employees back in the office, too, as it can significantly boost collaboration and personal productivity. That’s why companies considering RTO, should ensure that leadership and management are the first ones to come in. 

4. Camaraderie – winning and losing together

When working remotely, wins often go uncelebrated. This can lead to burnout because employees don’t feel appreciated and it’s easy to go into a routine of just doing things for the sake of doing them. Someone simply responding with a 👏emoji to your big success isn’t particularly rewarding nor inspiring. 

Accordingly, celebrating wins in person (e.g. with some 🥮 or 🍻) can be a great way to recognize good work, give employees a deserved break, and motivate people to come into the office, as sharing successes means more in-person. 

3 employees discussing what perks do employees want

The same goes for losing – when you fail something while working remotely, it’s easier to slide into self-doubt and isolation. By providing a supportive office environment, people may be more inclined to use it as they’ll have a team to commiserate with and put them back on their feet. 

5. Office lunch & coffee

If appeal to reason doesn’t work, you can always appeal to people’s more primal desires. Catering lunch or ensuring spectacular coffee in the office may entice those employees, who might not be swayed by other means. 

At DeskTime, one of the benefits we offer is free lunch at work, and – credit where credit is due – it has been instrumental in increasing people’s eagerness to come into the office. Of course, this usually comes hand-in-hand with the communal aspect, namely, bonding in an informal setting. 

But would there be as much bonding if there wasn’t free lunch to bring everyone together? Probably not. 

Finding your sweet spot

Leaders who want to encourage their employees to come into the office have a difficult task ahead of them. Mandating it will make you unpopular, but convincing employees that coming in is a good idea is challenging.

That said, it’s certainly doable as long as you’re proactive – things will only change if you change them:

  • Want the office to be better for work-life balance? Discourage after-hour work.
  • Want the office to be a more comfortable place than home? Invest in equipment.
  • Want people to collaborate in person? Lead by example.
  • Want people to celebrate their wins? Create company rituals.
  • Want people to bond? Create a setting where it’s possible. 

Know that, after doing all of this, some people may still prefer to work from home. But by offering a variety of incentives and creating an appealing office environment, you can find a balance that works for both your employees and your organization. 

Note that, you can also always ask – what perks do employees want. It’s a good place to start.

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