Why no one comes to the office?

A ping-pong table and free lunches won’t bring people back to their offices. If you want to fill your office again, you need to understand your employees’ needs and meet their expectations. This article will help you see the problem from a different perspective.

In this article:

  1. Why employees don’t want to be in the office?
  2. What do employees want during hybrid work?
  3. What to do to attract people to your office

Why employees don’t want to be in the office?

There are as many reasons as the employees themselves. It’s worth remembering that you can never please everyone. The factors listed below are conclusions we have drawn from research and conversations with our clients. Therefore, to a greater or lesser extent, they are generalizations meant to illuminate the most common reasons why employees drop out of office visits.

They see no reason to be in the office

For about 2 years, pandemic restrictions forced employees to work from home and made it clear that an effective home office is possible. Companies continue to operate and employees continue to do their jobs. Not surprisingly, upon hearing the news of the return to the office, some of them asked a simple question: why?

Employers should ask themselves the same question. You want to bring employees into the office because you’re paying for empty office space? That’s not their problem. Some employees believe that the reason behind persuading them to return is the need for more control from management, to justify the high cost of renting office space, or even to justify the existence of all those managerial positions.

If you want your employees to show up at the office again, you need to give them real reasons to return. Reasons, because what will be enough motivation for one employee may not impress another in the slightest.

They changed their lives

For many people, with the pandemic, it was time to relocate. Some wanted to be closer to family, others didn’t see the point of renting an apartment in the city center, and working remotely allowed them to make a change. Such employees would sooner change jobs than start attending the office regularly again, and it’s time to get over it.

Fragment of Microsoft study

Unfortunately, employers often find it difficult to understand this situation. They like to say that everything will “return to normal.” Well, no, nothing will return to normal, because there is nowhere to return from. Your employees already have a new normal, and its shape is not dictated by your office.

Working from the office is the same as working from home

Consider what an employee thinks when he arrives at the office, only to do computer work for 8 hours that he could just as well do from home. He probably wonders about the point of visiting the office at all.

An attractive on-site job must offer more than a home office. The JLL report shows that as many as 33% of employees would like to save time on routine tasks and spend it on creative work. Consider how your office can help them do that.

They have no one to come for

Imagine one of your employees with a short tenure. He has made the decision to visit the office. He arrives at the place, exchanges a few “hi’s” on the way to his desk, scores a short small talk in the kitchen, goes to lunch, and on the way out throws a few “bye’s.” Sounds unexciting, doesn’t it?

At the office, we like to meet friends. Unfortunately, pre-imposed or poorly enforced hybrid work schedules often prevent such meetings. If you want the experience of office visits to be a positive one, consider different hybrid work models and adjust them to give employees as much freedom as possible to meet up.

They don’t feel well in the office

Does your company care about inclusiveness and diversity? Could any of your employees feel excluded based on age, gender, nationality, orientation, or any other reason? You need to remember that attending conferences and supporting organizations that address these issues is different than behaving properly in the office.

I don’t just mean high-profile cases, which usually end in dismissals. Maybe younger employees, when talking to their older colleague, only ask her about the baby, as if that’s all there is in her life? Or maybe an introvert is suspected by co-workers of not socializing enough?

The reasons why one of your subordinates might feel bad drag on and on. You are not able to catch every such situation and not every situation qualifies for reporting to the HR department, yet they negatively affect the image of your office.

If you want to read more about exclusion in the context of hybrid and remote work, I recommend this article by The New York Times.

Arrival at office = 12 hour work day

Let’s not kid ourselves, working in an office is more demanding than working from home. We have to reckon with sacrificing time from getting ready in the morning, getting to the workplace, looking for a parking space up to getting home.

In larger cities, it can take up to 2 hours to get home by car. This extends the time spent at work to 10 hours, and we haven’t yet taken into account the morning commute. No kidding, such situations are bad for work-life balance, which employees care about more now than before the pandemic.

Think about how you can save your employees’ free time, which they still devote to work because they have arrived at the office. I can add from experience that a proper parking reservation system realistically helps reduce the time it takes to get to work.

The office isn’t attractive

The appeal of an office is all about its aesthetics, comfort and innovation. We all like to be in nice spaces, so if your office is a dozen or so identical desks, among bare walls, without plants or any variety, don’t be surprised if employees are unenthusiastic at the thought of visiting it.

For some employees, the conditions in the office will simply be inconvenient. We have all experienced the famous fights over air conditioning, but the problem is much broader. The quality of the air, the comfort of sitting at a desk, the noise in the office and many other factors affect the comfort of employees. Your office may be very comfortable compared to others, but remember that the alternative for your employees is not another office, but their own chair, desk, etc.

Fragment of JLL report „Workforce preferences barometer” 

Employees want innovative offices, full of modern technology that they can’t afford at home. Above, I’ve shown a chart from the JLL report showing employee expectations of technology support and how much the employer covers them. As many as 61% of employees expect technology to support collaboration in the office, which almost 1 in 4 employers do not provide. Think about what kind of technology support your office offers employees beyond computers, because here may lie the reason for their absenteeism.

What do employees want during hybrid work?

Determining what employees expect and need often misses the mark, as managers and directors find it difficult to take the employee’s perspective. Slack’s Future Forum report shows that the work-life balance of rank-and-file employees is 40% worse compared to representatives of managerial positions, and they are also affected by more work-related stress. Employees are paying the real price of different return-to-office policies, so if you want to get them on your side, look at the issue through their eyes.

Clear and flexible schedule

When discussing the return to offices, so much attention is paid to the workplace that another important aspect is overlooked – working hours. 94% of white-collar workers want flexibility in determining when they work, compared to “only” 79% demanding flexibility in choosing where they work.

In addition, employees increasingly want to know why they should show up at the office. Given months of poorly organized hybrid work without the right tools, it’s hardly surprising to them.

Clearly defined rules and requirements (e.g., in hybrid work policy) and flexibility in terms of time and place of work are important requirements that employees are increasingly demanding.

Work-life balance

The Microsoft report says that more than half (53%) of employees are more likely to prioritize their health and well-being over work than they were before the pandemic. At the same time, we observe that a lot of office visits this year are less than 6 hours long, which may be due to the inclusion in the 8-hour workday of the time employees have to spend communicating to and from the office.

Fragment of JLL report „Workforce preferences barometer” 

All indications are that the trend of prioritizing one’s health will gain momentum, and the days of making sacrifices for work are slowly becoming a thing of the past.

A sense of self-esteem

Employees want to feel that they matter to the company. They want to know that their presence is noticed and their work appreciated. If visits to your office fill them with the belief that their presence makes no difference and that they are just an unnoticed cog, it’s no wonder they don’t return there.

Breaking the routine

Coming to the office, employees don’t want to do the same tasks and in the same way as they do at home office. A change in work routine may be what attracts them to the office.

Keep in mind that opportunity alone will not make employees start working differently. If they are inundated with responsibilities when they arrive at the office and a deadline is trampling on them, they won’t have the time or inclination to try something new at all.

Meeting friends

Much has been written recently about the post-pandemic decline of teamwork and the loosening of social ties at work. A return to offices is supposed to be the remedy that will heal relationships and bring people together. I have bad news: this will most likely not happen.

Why? Because employers do not provide the right conditions for effective socialization. Above all, an employee must have time to interact with someone. Space is also needed. Quick conversations between meetings on Teams, among desks, over the heads of co-workers is not the kind of socialization that will bring anyone together.

Employees need time and space to build teamwork anew. Therefore, consider redefining office work and allocating time for proper socialization.

What to do to attract people to your office

I recently attended a webinar on encouraging people to come to the office. A lunching company boasted that since introducing free lunches on Tuesdays and Thursdays, attendance on those days has jumped by up to 40%.

They were diplomatically silent about the fact that on the other days about 3-4% of employees continue to be present in the office. This is because the method of the mentioned company is the simplest bribery with no real impact on the employees’ relationship with the office.

I have nothing against benefits, they are a pleasant addition that I appreciate very much. However, we need to realize that adding more benefits on a “who gives more” basis is not the way to build a healthy employee-office relationship.

And what is that way? Here are some tips to consider before persuading employees to visit the office.

1. Don’t force

The reasons for working remotely are various and it is impossible to list them all. Forcing employees who can perform duties from home to be in the office 2-3 days a week will end up with even more resentment.

2. Try to understand

If you want to know the reasons why your employees avoid office visits, ask them. Do an anonymous survey among them and ask them to outline their expectations, suggest improvements and point out the biggest problems.

3. Explain why and where

Provide employees with a clear hybrid work policy and outline your expectations. Explain to them when you need them in the office and why you want them to come to the office. Finally, try to give them as much flexibility as possible and maintain the synergy between your needs.

4. Make the office more attractive

Make your office attractive in terms of aesthetics, innovation and convenience. Remember to involve your employees in the decision-making process. They will feel much better in a place they helped create.

5. Add variety to your office work

When visiting the office, allow your employees to enjoy it to the fullest. Give them time to talk, have creative meetings, try new things and anything else they can’t do at home. Attractive office work can’t look like working from home.

6. Ensure that no one feels excluded

Raise awareness about inclusivity in your office. Inform employees about the company’s stance on acceptance and diversity. Ensure that employees have someone to go to with their problems, no matter how small they may seem.

7. Understand the work-life balance of employees

Understand that employees do not want to allocate their free time to work. If your office is located in the city center and it takes a long time to get there, don’t be surprised if your employees want to leave work as soon as possible.

8. Appreciate your employees

Nothing clips the wings of employees more than feeling that they are unappreciated and replaceable. Make sure your office doesn’t escalate such feelings.

9. Experiment

Have you ever tried setting aside one day a month to invite everyone to the office and dedicating this day to just meetings (not necessarily business)? If not – give it a try. If you have, keep experimenting. The key to success in hybrid work is different for every company.

Summary

Have you ever spent 1.5-2 hours preparing and getting to a place where you can play ping pong for half an hour? I don’t think so (and if you have, congratulations on your passion for ping pong). Would you spend the same amount of time to eat lunch à la box diet on the spot? Probably not. So stop considering such entertainment and benefits as a solution to poor office attendance.

If you want your employees to come to the office again, working there must offer something more than working from home. Change your approach to the office. Make it a place for creative brainstorming, networking, and socializing. Try to make office work less associated with 8 hours spent in front of a screen.

Get into your employee’s skin for a moment and honestly ask yourself if there is anything in your office that can generate enthusiasm. Now think about whether employees have time to use it. One Xbox for 200 employees may not serve its purpose during a 30-minute lunch break.

The days of holding the same position for 30 years at one company are long behind us. If you don’t provide your employees with satisfactory flexibility, they will easily change jobs. Listen to their needs and try to make working for your company a pleasure, not a constant adjustment to unsupported requirements.

Wojciech Feliks
Wojciech Feliks
Every company has its story, and I love telling stories. Privately a big fan of horror movies, ramen, and tea. I wouldn't say no to a journey around the world.

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