How to make your small office worth the commute

A young lady on her smartphone commuting to work via a bus

There is a new normal in the way we work with businesses now navigating different ways to balance office-based work with the increasing popularity of working from home (WFH).

For many organisations, a move to hybrid work - a mix of office work and WFH - has been a way to meet both employer and employee needs. For others, a work-from-anywhere model has been adopted, while some employers are pushing for a full-time return to the office.

This evolving work model has fundamentally altered how employers and employees view remote work.

But it can be tricky to get an accurate picture on just how many staff members are now actually returning to the office five days a week, amid reports of pushback from some workers.

According to research from recruiter Robert Half, most Australian employers (87%) have introduced policies that mandate the number of days staff must be in the office, with four days a week being the most popular regime, cited by 28% of businesses.

In terms of why employers want workers back in the office, the most commonly cited reason is it's better for meetings to be face to face. Other key reasons are for higher productivity, company culture, and the need to make use of existing office space.

Other factors, as per the research, are that it's difficult for businesses to manage teams virtually and that the career journeys of junior employees are harder to manage remotely.

Why should employees return to the office?

It's understandable that many employees are reluctant to return to the office and consider that their jobs - as they've discovered - can be done just as well from the comfort of home.

What's more, many workers have uncovered many unappreciated benefits of working from home such as saving time and money on a commute to the office, and the chance to get small tasks done at home during the workday like washing dishes or laundry.

Still, there are several reasons why workers may opt to return to the office, at least a few days per week, according to recent research by Microsoft.

The tech giant's Microsoft Work Trend Index showed an overwhelming majority of employees (85%) would be motivated to go into the office to rebuild team bonds, while 84% of employees would be keen to go into the office to socialise with co-workers.

Almost three-quarters of workers (74%) would go to the office more frequently if they knew their "work friends" were there, while 73% of respondents would return more frequently if they knew their "direct team members" would be present, the research also found.

It may indicate that workers are reluctant to return to the office because the advantages of doing so are not clear to them at the moment.

Here are a few of the benefits workers can get from returning to the office:

Separating life and work

Spending a day or two working from the office results in a clearer division of work and home lives. While WFH makes the boundary setting tricky, working from an office enables employees to do job tasks in an allotted timeframe.

There's also the fact that a 9-to-5 schedule enables workers to set goals for the day before they sign off and relax in the evening, leading to a clearer work-life balance split.

Furthermore, it can also create synergy among co-workers that are difficult to create with remote working via video calls and online collaboration platforms. It's arguably the case that connections are much more natural in person versus a virtual brainstorming session.

Increased social interaction

Employees could also be missing out on the social benefits that come with engaging with colleagues on a daily basis. While definitely not a feature of all workplaces, an inclusive office environment that motivates workers and nurtures a sense of ownership and emotional attachment to work can be a fun place to be.

Improved productivity

Research from LinkedIn has shown working in close proximity lifts both quality and quantity of work. Also, the higher performance of one member of a team has been shown to lead to positive impact on other team members, subsequently boosting overall team performance. This can be another big plus of working on-site.

Community building

Being remote can lead workers to lose sight of their important role in a company’s values, mission and vision. By contrast, supportively transitioning employees back into the office, even a few days per week, can create stronger bonds with co-workers. This can in turn bolster employees' sense of purpose and belonging in the company.

How can employers better support their employees?

When it comes to encouraging employees to return to on-site work, there's a lot companies can do. Here are seven effective ways employers can provide a supportive pathway back into the office for their staff:

1. Incentives

According to real estate firm JLL Australia, incentivising employees to get back to the office can be a big help. Indeed, nearly half of the 240 companies surveyed by the firm said they had some form of an incentive package for employees to return voluntarily.

2. Better catering

A feature of some big firms for a long time, free meals and drinks have somewhat unsurprisingly emerged as a common strategy to get workers to the office.

3. Health and wellbeing 

Making health and wellbeing offerings free - a gym at the office, or discounts and partnerships to fitness studios near the office - is another attractive perk.

4. Transport assistance 

Offering transportation subsidies, or reimbursement, to reduce the hassle and ease the commute cost burden for employees is another incentive that may encourage remote-based workers to head back to the office. Bike racks can also help.

5. Work equipment

There are also your work tools to consider, which for many workers means things like computers, printers, scanners and office accessories. With many workers having great home offices, employers should make the office just as comfortable and customisable.

6. Collaboration and innovation 

Optimising collaboration and innovation in the office can be a boon for workers as it helps to break the isolation that can come with WFH. As is commonly known, one of the biggest deficits of home working is the isolation given the lack of face-to-face contact with colleagues from other departments and teams. Some ideas in this regard for employers are to design experiences that bring people together in new ways. This could be, for instance, an extended catered lunch to encourage local employees into the office, or quarterly team weeks for workers together onsite.

7. Training and mentoring

Incentivising employees to return to the office can also be assisted by offering on-site mentoring programs as part of career progression efforts. In addition to the passing on of knowledge to the younger employee, it can be a win-win for both senior and junior staff who come to see the importance of in-person connection for building trust.

What should employees look for in a return to the office?

There are many things that employees should keep an eye out for if you are considering going back to the office either full or part-time.

Remote, hybrid or WFH policies

For many employees with managers who want them back in the office, it's key to keep on top of mind what best suits them in terms of flexibility, acknowledging there are upsides to both WFH and the office. There's no one-size-fits-all approach for all offices, so be sure to get aligned with your employer about what you both want.

Remember, while there is a push to get employees back to the office, the share of workers in the office full-time fell to 42% in the June quarter, down from 49% in the prior three months, as per The Flex Report, which collects insights from over 4,000 companies globally.

At the same time, the share of offices with hybrid arrangements reached 30%, up from 20% the previous quarter. This means workers are in a good position to ask for flexibility in their work, and many workplaces mandate a set number of days that people must go to the office.

If you end up going into the office for some days each week, ensure you get as much out of them as possible. Make them meaningful, intentional and productive.

Office environment

If you're heading back on-site, it’s also a good idea to consider what your office time will look like. Think about what the experience is going to be like and if it's worth it for you. Here, consider elements like culture, diversity and inclusion, support and relationships, network-building and colleagues that will be involved.

Wellbeing is another factor to keep high on the agenda. Working from home can be tough mentally so getting back to the office can be a chance to access mental health support as well as wellness benefits such as counselling, HR check-ins and fitness amenities.

Additionally, the workplace and its surroundings need to be an experience you enjoy. For instance, your employer may need to change the office layout to allow for individual quiet areas, collaboration areas, and more casual common areas for socialising.

Work policy changes

Along with remuneration and incentives, work policy changes to look out for include things like office perks such as child care or a guaranteed parking spot, flexible hours for those with long commutes and staggered schedules to avoid peak congestion.

Technology and tools

There's also an onus on employers now to invest in tools that ensure a seamless transition between home and office to make office work fit in with home. Think about what tools or technology you have access to in the office and whether or not you would need something similar at home.

For example, a useful tool for hybrid workers is a multi-function printer that supports a range of applications. A Brother multi-function device like the MFC-L2713DW is a monochrome all-in-one printer with scan, copy and fax functionalities, perfect for busy hybrid workers who need to print from a smartphone or scan directly to cloud-based services like Dropbox.

Another useful tool is a desktop scanner like Brother's ADS-3100, which can assist home-based workers with sharing and organising their important documents on a cloud-based server.

Social interaction

Team social events are another area that can motivate employees to return to the office. As Microsoft's Work Trends Index reveals, some 83% of employees would be prompted to go back onsite if socialising and rebuilding team bonds was an offering.

Meanwhile, 78% say they would go to the office more often if work friends or direct team members were there. When considering this factor, a good idea may be to look to see if your employer has set up social interest clubs, or is encouraging employees to do so, given the link between social wellbeing and mental health.

As the world of work becomes more flexible, employees and employers must find ways of working that make sense for both sides to navigate a path to success ahead.

Read our guide on how to improve staff retention with technology

Print and scan solutions for hybrid working conditions

Brother's innovative range of print and scan technologies can help both employers and employees transition smoothly back into their respective working environments. We offer an array of solutions that cater to the versatile needs of businesses of various sizes, including high-speed printers and scanners.

Furthermore, Brother's technologies have been designed with the latest security features to ensure that confidential data remains secure. With these state-of-the-art solutions, employees can focus on their work without worrying about the logistics of printing and scanning, while employers benefit from improved productivity and cost savings.

Whether it's returning to the office or continuing to work from home, Brother is here to offer support every step of the way. Get in touch with us today and talk to an expert.

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