Culture | Strategy | Leadership | Office | Change Management | Hybrid Working | 4 min read

Why mandating time in the office will fail


As the dust begins to settle on hybrid working and organisations find clarity and comfort with their approach to the office vs home working debate, we are beginning to see some key themes emerge around what drives people to the office and what keeps people working from home. 

It is all about people 

social connections at the workplace

In a nutshell, social connection is the key reason that people cite to come to the office. Early in the pandemic, we struggled with virtual collaboration, particularly in large groups or when creative outcomes were required. However, for the most part, we have learnt to collaborate effectively virtually and asynchronously. We have embraced collaboration tools and platforms whether it be Mural or MS Teams or one of the many other emerging collaborative technologies, and we have got good at it. Indeed for some, sharing ideas and thoughts via virtual post-it noting or chat channels can feel less risky and pressured, creating opportunities to think deeply and creatively that weren't previously on offer. 

On the flip side, we have also learnt that virtual interaction is often solely transactional and less personal than face-to-face and that our human need to connect and understand each other outside of the task at hand is best done when physically together. We are better humans, and better employees when we are able to know our colleagues, chat spontaneously and learn from each other informally. 

So then how much time do people need together to meet this need? And what do organisations need to do to drive people together?

Start with purpose 

Despite the hopes of some industries and leaders, the preference to spend most of the week working from home is not waning amongst employees. The latest Leesman Report indicates that two-thirds of their respondents will spend 2 days or less in the office each week, and to support this shift people are increasingly setting up their homes with dedicated work rooms or areas. 

This means that coming to the office needs to be driven by purpose. With homes set up to support productivity and work-life balance, the time and cost of travel to an office are weighted on a daily basis against who and what they will find when they get there and reflected upon as they journey home. Was the office experience worth my time and money?

It is now up to the organisation or the immediate team to drive that purpose, with the knowledge that social connection and learning will be the key value drivers for time in the office. This does not mean holding relentless social events and mandatory fun but rather a process of mapping the activities and experiences that are critical to your organisation and people to the ideal location, and defining how performance and engagement can best be supported by space, technology and a robust workplace strategy. 

Magnetise not mandate

Ideal mix between virtual and in-person connection

There is a temptation in many organisations to answer the problem of the empty office with mandates for minimum days per week attendance. While this may fill up the space for a time, there is a real risk to employee engagement, performance and ultimately retention. Flexibility can no longer be considered a benefit, it is an expectation for many and a deal breaker for many others. And there is a raft of research that links flexibility to job performance and well-being.

Ultimately our offices need to deliver value to organisations. They can no longer be passive backdrops to our work but rather must be dynamic spaces which provide choice, amenity, connection and energy. The challenge for organisations ahead is to offer employees the right level of team and individual autonomy alongside an office which attracts people to it, provides a great experience through social connection and on reflection, as the employee heads home and experiences that truly earnt the commute. 

Like to learn more?

If you would like to learn more about how we can assist you to design a purposeful office, get in touch today!.

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