RTO is one hot potato

06 May 2022

The debate about returning to the office has raged on and on over the last few months and there are no signs of it stopping.

Recently, two law firms come out fighting.

Stephenson Harwood are adopting a hybrid model, like the majority of other law firms; but if you don’t ever want to go into the office again, you’re in for a shock.  All fully remote workers will see their pay cut by 20%.

Meanwhile Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan has told its London lawyers to spend over half their working week in the office, and is promising ‘hot lunches’ as a way of enticing them back.  It’s like Luncheon Vouchers all over again.

Many companies and firms are making Thursdays a day when everyone is in, and that seems to be evidenced by the journeys on the Tube.

However, many firms are struggling to persuade certain populations to come in at all.  Two of our clients are struggling with getting their tech teams to love the office once again – which is surprising because in many ways, the Silicon Valley style office was built for tech folk.

We do have to ask ourselves, why do companies want their people back in the office?  Surely, the starting point is money. We either keep with the office and you use it.  Or we lose it.  Currently, UK offices are just a quarter full – which is surely not sustainable. The other reason seems to be the ability to collaborate and innovate better when you’re together. At least this is the reason being put forward – although I suspect that it’s also leaders saying ‘If I’m coming into the office, I want to make sure everyone else is too!’.

Okay, so, say we need to get people to return to the office – for the sake of the business, collaboration, innovation and to keep the boss happy – what do we do?

At the recent Innovation@Work event held by The Economist, Hamish Badenoch, Global head, future of work and real estate transformation, Deutsche Bank, talked about how people had changed their habits during the course of the pandemic. It was now a habit to work at home; and if you want to get people to return to the office, you have to change habits (and that takes time).

Changing habits is not simply about sending out an email, a la Tim Cook.

The backlash was quick with a group of Apple employees saying that “forcing them back to the office will kill diversity and make tech firm ‘younger, whiter and more male-dominated’ because it only benefits privileged staff who can ‘disappear into the office all day'”.

So what’s our advice on creating comms and engagement to encourage colleagues to return to the office:

Start consulting – this is a hot potato.  Find out what people really think; and what are real barriers and opportunities.

Always co-create – get teams of people involved in helping to co-create your comms.

Get creative – let’s not roll out ‘One Team’ nonsense.  That’s gone.  Get a strong creative team on the job (like 106).  And if you need to be radical, do it.

Go beyond a campaign – this is not some one-off campaign that can solve this.  Think about the medium and long term.

And keep leaders consistent – make sure they are role-modelling, sharing and talking about their office experience (and struggles), and what’s working for them.

And here’s how not to do it.  Don’t remind employees of what they are missing when they are coming into the office:

In the lobby of an office building in Toronto. I guess to make sure employees are flooded with resentment the instant they walk in the door?

— Audra Williams (@audrawilliams) March 7, 2022


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