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Last Updated February 26, 2024

Motivating employees back to the office

Motivating employees to return back to the office is easier said than done. In our blog, we will learn our top tips for navigating a smooth return.

In the wake of the global pandemic, many businesses swiftly transitioned to remote work, sending employees home to work to ensure safety and continuity. 

Now, as restrictions ease and the world begins to reset, employers are faced with reevaluating working arrangements.

Before we delve into how to change current interim arrangements and motivate employees to return back to the office, what are the different models?

  • Traditional Office-Based Work
  • Remote Work
  • Hybrid Work


Let’s take a closer look.

Traditional Office-Based Work

Employees work onsite at a designated workplace, typically during regular business hours, under the supervision of managers or supervisors.

Remote Work

Employees work from a location other than the office setting, often from home, coworking space, or holiday location.  They use digital tools and communication technology to collaborate with colleagues.

Hybrid Work

A flexible work arrangement combining remote and office-based work elements, allowing employees to split their time between working remotely and in the office.

These are just a few different work arrangements, each offering unique benefits and challenges for employers and employees.


How do you assess which option will suit you?

Assessing which work arrangement will best suit your team involves;

  • Evaluating the goals of return to the office work
  • Seeking feedback from employees.

48% of Australian employees believe their office policies prioritise what leaders want instead of what employees need, according to a June 2023 Gartner Global Talent Monitor (GTM) survey of 3,493 employees.1 

Let’s explore both steps further.

Evaluating the goal

The first step in motivating employees to return to the office is to communicate the reasons behind the change and the expected benefits gained by working in the office. 

Here are five possible key benefits for a return to the office;

  • Improved Collaboration and Innovation: Face-to-face interaction can facilitate organic, spontaneous discussions and brainstorming, provide instant feedback and collaborative problem-solving. 
  • Enhanced Team Building: Being in the same physical space strengthens relationships among team members by facilitating better understanding, trust, and camaraderie, which are essential for effective teamwork and achieving common goals.
  • Faster Decision-Making and Problem Resolution: Being in the office enables quicker decision-making, clarification, and problem resolution.  Employees can address issues in real time and consult with colleagues or supervisors as needed. This agility can help organisations respond more efficiently to challenges, unplanned problems and seize opportunities. 
  • Prioritise Wellbeing and Mental Health: Being in the same space allows supervisors to check in with their employees more regularly, identify changes in wellbeing, and recognise the signs of mental health in individual employees. 
  • Stronger Company Culture and Employee Engagement: Physical presence in the workplace fosters a sense of belonging, shared purpose, and alignment with the business and customers. Onsite interactions enable employers to cultivate a positive company culture.  Employers can recognise employee achievements, and promote employee engagement through team events, social activities, and professional development opportunities.

While remote and hybrid work arrangements offer flexibility and autonomy, being onsite can provide unique advantages in collaboration, communication, and fostering a cohesive organisational culture. Employers should carefully consider their needs and priorities when determining their teams’ most effective work arrangement.

Seek Feedback

Once you have identified the goals of a return to the office, the next step is to seek employee feedback. By understanding your team’s needs and preferences, you can implement working arrangements that accommodate the business, the employees, and the customers.

Start by gathering feedback from your team members to understand their needs and preferences. Learn of any challenges they face with their current work arrangement, and any concerns about returning to the workplace.

It is essential to analyse the feedback and determine the most effective work arrangements for the business or teams before implementing any changes.


How do I successfully implement a change?

The key to any organisational change is to include your employees in the decision. It is also important to motivate employees to return to the office. This transition presents an opportunity for businesses to redefine their culture, collaboration, team building, problem solving, wellbeing and mental health in fostering a thriving work environment.

To assist with implementing a successful change, here are four steps to follow:

  • Develop Clear Expectations: to facilitate a smooth transition, employers and employees can work together to establish clear expectations regarding the return to the workplace. 

Examples can include a potential phased return to the workplace, core hours of coverage, minimum numbers in the office, number of days in the office, a roster of set days, and notification required to change days. Clarity fosters confidence and empowers employees to navigate the transition with ease.

  • Empathy and Understanding: employers must approach this transition with empathy and understanding. Acknowledging the challenges individual employees and their families may face in returning to the workplace and validating their concerns fosters a sense of psychological safety and trust. 

Employers can cultivate a supportive and resilient workplace culture by prioritising employee wellbeing and actively addressing their needs.

  • Update Policies and Procedures: The return to the office can necessitate the revision of policies and procedures or employee handbook.  It is important to accommodate the new working environment and document expectations. 

Examples can include revisiting leave policies, flexible work arrangements, team building, and measures to promote health and wellbeing in the workplace.

  • Set a review period and manage any challenges: Continuously seek feedback from employees to assist in evaluating the effectiveness of the chosen work arrangement and its impact on team performance, productivity, and satisfaction. 

If any challenges or issues arise at any stage of the process, be prepared to address them quickly to avoid a negative impact on the outcome.

By following these steps and maintaining a proactive, supportive approach, you can successfully implement the chosen work arrangement for your team and create a positive, productive work environment that meets the needs of everyone involved.


Challenges and opportunities

The transition back to the workplace presents both challenges and opportunities for businesses. By proactively addressing concerns, communicating transparently, and fostering a culture of empathy and inclusion, employers can successfully motivate employees to return to the workplace.  In turn this can create an environment where everyone thrives.

For further information or assistance with managing employees back to the workplace, contact Small Business Society.

  1. https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2023-10-17-gartner-hr-survey-shows-australian-organisational-culture-at-an-all-time-low

The information provided in this document is for your guidance only and is general in nature. It does not constitute as legal advice. It is the responsibility of the individual to seek legal advice where required.


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About Kate Tongue

Kate Tongue is the founding Director of Small Business Society.

She is a qualified and experienced Human Resources professional with more than 10 years of experience across the private and public sectors.

Her particular interest and experience is in managing the employee life cycle, delivering process improvements, and Human Resource strategy.

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