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September 12, 2022

Rethink your return-to-office plans — or risk losing top talent

Christopher Luise

Every company has re-imagined the way it works.

Remote work and virtual collaboration became the norm during the pandemic — and the IT industry was swamped helping organizations adapt.

But now, many companies are anxious to have their employees return to their offices, full time or most of the time.

ADNET Technologies won’t be one of those companies.

When you force employees to return to the office, you’re also forcing them to decide if your company is the right fit for them.

Here’s why we’ll keep letting our team choose where they work.

Culture is built by commitment to people, not places

Throughout the pandemic, we onboarded new hires without ever meeting them in person — yet they said their onboarding experience made them truly feel like part of the team. That’s a testament to our people, not our process or offices.

Without a passionate team that cares about connection and belonging, it doesn’t matter what technology you have or perks you offer. Put the right people in positions to help others succeed and encourage selfless behaviors.

Developing a people-first culture helps hybrid work succeed. Find ways to facilitate real, authentic connection in virtual settings.

Virtual events, happy hours and one-on-ones can be a great way to help people connect. Importantly, get feedback from your teams to shape a workplace that works for everyone. This will empower your entire team to work the way that’s best for them, while preserving company culture and identity.

Take corporate events, for example. Webinars and videos can replace some training and conferences. Keep scheduled meetings intentional to keep attendees focused, actively listening, and participating whether they attend from the office or virtually. Structure meetings to enable remote staff to have the same experience as those in the room.

This can mean turning all cameras on, moderating the meeting to ensure people have a chance to speak or leveraging tools like chat.

Social events should be offered on an opt-in basis where everyone is welcome, but no one is required to attend. It’s great seeing peers outside the office, but it’s important to let people choose what works for them.

Trust boosts business outcomes

If you have the technology to support remote work, and you’re still requiring people to commute to an office daily (or an arbitrary number of days), I challenge you to reflect on the root of that policy.

The problem is often a systemic lack of trust between management and employees. Management-control measures only make things worse. Nothing says, “We trust you” less convincingly than, “We’re monitoring you.”

Return-to-office mandates can also feel personal when they don’t impact everyone equally. If you’re requiring most team members to come in, but letting managers and executives have flexibility, it sends a bad message.

When you trust people at all levels of your organization to do their jobs in their preferred locations, you’ll see higher rates of productivity, engagement and positive business outcomes.

Return to office risks can outweigh rewards

According to research from Microsoft, “50% of leaders say their company already requires, or plans to require, full-time, in-person work in the year ahead.”

Given the success of work-from-anywhere policies across many industries, that’s a missed opportunity — and it creates significant turnover risks for employers.

The same research shows “52% of Gen Z and Millennials are likely to consider changing employers this year, up 3% year-over-year.”

People are prioritizing their lives, families, health and happiness — as they should be. Ask yourself, is it worth losing dedicated employees, or demotivating them, just to have them sitting where you can see them? I don’t think so.

Growth, productivity fueled by modern workspaces

The office used to be the place you went to get your work done. That isn’t the case anymore.

The modern office is an operational hub and cultural outpost. It’s a space where your team can get together to collaborate or connect over coffee. It’s a place to share with clients and the community.

Modern offices should be built for purposeful human connection, not micromanagement. Spaces should easily adapt for different groups and uses, without siloed cubicles or individual offices that divide teams.

It’s also okay to eliminate underused relics of the past, like fax machines and even server rooms, if your technology is cloud-based. If it’s not adding value to your office, it doesn’t need to be there. Choose technology that supports how you work now and in the future, not the way you have historically.

Workspaces are inseparably linked to company culture, so equip them for collaboration — both virtually and in person — and create dedicated areas for connection and relaxation, like lounges and coffee bars.

Adding a private room that can be used for anything — recreation, meditation, prayer or privacy — is also a great option. If you let your space get too formal or outdated, people will want to stay home.

Your decision to adapt to remote or hybrid work will impact your business outcomes. In addition to enhancing accessibility, diversity and inclusion, embracing flexibility and trusting people will result in employee retention, satisfaction and productivity.

A mandatory return to office won’t.

Christopher Luise is the CEO of ADNET Technologies, a Rocky Hill-based IT management, cloud services and cybersecurity firm.

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