3 Mistakes to Avoid When Bringing Employees Back to the Office


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

With the return to office in full swing, listening to employee needs and well-being is more important than ever for business leaders. It is difficult to recognize failures when they are happening, but their impact is often unmistakable after the fact.

As we navigate this uncharted territory, as leaders it is critical that we all constantly evaluate our approach to leadership, consider fresh perspectives and adapt. First and foremost is identifying missteps early.

If any of the below points feel familiar to you, it is likely time to reevaluate your approach.

Related: Returning to The Office Without a Strategy Is The Biggest Mistake You Can Make. Follow These 4 Steps for a Perfect Transition.

1. Not gathering employee feedback in the right ways

A smooth return to the office requires a mix of the right strategies, support and technology to help avoid major pitfalls. It also requires a certain amount of self-reflection. One way to do this is to consider what we should carry with us from remote and hybrid settings and what we should leave behind.

Consistent, reliable feedback from your team is essential for this self-reflection. But posing questions point-blank won’t cover it. While some individuals may feel comfortable speaking up in company-wide meetings, this won’t work for everyone. In fact, according to a 2022 survey, more than 71% of participants noted wanting anonymous ways to engage at work.

It is important to have a tech stack in place that promotes anonymous feedback so you can ensure honesty and frankness. Platforms that provide anonymous voting, polls and Q&As can give a voice to those who are hesitant to raise their hand, leveling the playing field. If you don’t make an active effort to support a culture of inclusivity around employee feedback, it will be impossible to meet the needs of your team.

2. Not providing a flexible enough return-to-office policy

The constant change throughout hybrid work has led to unclear expectations, even for something as basic as how and when to show up. Against this backdrop, a mid-pandemic study found that 86% of employees felt people at their company were not heard fairly or their needs were not being met. In structuring return-to-office policies, leaders have a chance to change that.

We cannot expect employees to be back in the office, effective tomorrow, working a full five days a week in-person and resuming the “old normal.” Times have changed and leaders must realize this. For many, this would cause unnecessary stress and anxiety in their work lives. And for those providing care for children, older family members or otherwise needed at home, those demands aren’t just unfair — they’re nearly impossible.

In these situations, leaders must craft company policies from the bottom up. Top-down management is a thing of the past. Anyone still working with a vertical hierarchy is going to struggle to put in place an effective return-to-office policy that works for everyone in the office and conjures up the excitement to once again be with colleagues. If you want to know what your employees need, ask them.

This moment calls for employers to be conscious of their teams’ lives outside of work. Personal life should not be jeopardized by work. It’s up to leaders to ease this transition and support a maintained balance.

Related: How Flexible Work Will Give Your Business the Biggest Advantage

3. Underutilization of employees and teams

Satisfied employees stay put. They are not always on the lookout for their next opportunity, even in moments of change that could otherwise contribute to turnover. But when people feel underutilized — as 25% of employees currently do — they are more likely to put their two weeks in during periods of change and uncertainty like the return to office.

Underutilization is often a result of inattentiveness to individual employee fulfillment. The secret to getting the most out of your team is providing them with opportunities that truly excite them. This is not a one-size-fits-all answer, as for some employees it means better schedule flexibility, while for others it could be more accessibility to senior leadership or opportunities for growth. It’s imperative that leaders align with their employees individually.

Righting these wrongs

A company is only as successful as its employees are happy — and upheavals like a return to office risk adding to employee dissatisfaction. You can ease that transition by getting back to basics. Start by optimizing the feedback process, show empathy and flexibility during a period of change and allow your team to focus on the work that makes them happiest.

It’s all about opening the right kind of dialogue and ensuring inclusivity and understanding in the conversation. After all, the first step to fixing any leadership mistakes is acknowledging that you’ve even made them.

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