When planning your return to office after COVID, remember: no one likes being told what to do. Even when the person doing the telling has the right to do so. And forcing someone to do something, even when they may be predisposed to do it, often breeds discontent—and even backlash.

This is particularly so when the thing you want someone to do involves their personal health and welfare. Enticing someone to act beats forcing them to act every time.

(This is part two of a three part series on returning to the office. Read part one here, and part three here.)

Don’t Spark a Rebellion

Keep this front of mind when planning your return to office after COVID. (And be systematic in your approach to ensuring a safe office.) Telling your office workers that they must come back to the office by a certain date and time risks both a personal and a collective rebellion. England’s King George III ignited a revolution when he tried telling the American colonists what to do. Prohibition banned the legal sale of alcohol and birthed Al Capone in response.

On the flip side, offering the carrot of bonuses to your employees for returning to the office risks creating unrealistic expectations and the specter of reward dependency. Ivan Pavlov figured that out with Bierka and his 40 other dogs.

Consider a more democratic approach. Your employees have now all tasted the previously forbidden fruit of working from home. No commuting, no dressing up, comfortable, familiar surroundings, dogs allowed, and one’s own personal refrigerator. Not to mention working from home has been paradise for the world’s introverts. All these factors and more mean it’s unlikely that the majority of workers are salivating to return to the office environment on a full-time basis.

Working from home will require enticing employees to return to office after covid

But Home Office Nirvana? Not for Most

All that said, working from home is not necessarily nirvana for employees. (At least, not for most of them.) Home officing lacks many fundamental benefits that can only be provided by a traditional, office-based work life. These include:

  • One-on-one mentorship/face time with leadership
  • More effective collaboration
  • Fast resolution of issues that can take weeks working asynchronously and remotely
  • Much-needed personal time during a commute
  • Spur-of-the-moment get-togethers with colleagues
  • Face-to-face working sessions
  • Water-cooler moments where great ideas are born

And, perhaps most importantly, a true separation from life at home. Instead of the autocratic dictate, try spotlighting these fundamental differences and enjoining your employees in creating a collective solution.

Three business people collaborating around a table

In my opinion, modern office workers have an enlightened, holistic definition of wealth. They include within their calculus the entire working experience:

  • Salary
  • Education
  • Physical environment
  • Mentorship
  • Career path
  • Collegiality
  • Personal recognition
  • Real engagement with the company

And the archetypal beer after work! While compelling, even freeing, at first, working from home is anathema to the human need for physical interaction. We are fundamentally social beings—which is the reason for our species’ success. ‘Socializing’ over Zoom, while better than no interaction at all, is no one’s idea of a great party.

And most employees do know that working from home is not ideal—not now and not for the future. Take advantage of this enlightened attitude toward work-life balance. Empower your employees to make the decision with you to return to office after COVID.

Plan your return to office after covid by involving your employees

Enticing Their Return to Office After COVID

Draw from throughout the office stratum. Invite a representative subset of your employees to discuss timing your return-to-office date and drafting your return-to-office policies. Entice them to participate in your efforts by giving them a real say in the ultimate return-to-office decision. You’ll be surprised by what you hear and learn. Best of all, you’ll get to know your employees far better.

The resulting set of policies and procedures may not perfectly comport with your desires as organization leadership. But the end result will be far healthier for your entire organization, and avoid the challenges and likely backlash that forceful reentry will present.

In the end, the ultimate message respecting a return to the office won’t come from executive management, but from your employee’s peers. And peer pressure trumps sticks and carrots every time.

For more detail on executing a successful office reopening, watch the free on-demand webinar: “The Future of Commercial Offices: 4 Keys to a Successful Post-COVID Reopening.”