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Liane Davey: 10 Ways to Create an Office People Want to Return To

Liane Davey: 10 Ways to Create an Office People Want to Return To

Are you reluctant to return to the office? Is your team? Many people are resistant to the idea. Even more so if all an organization offers is the same hum-drum day of tasks but with an hour commute on each side.

If you’re trying to jump-start your team back into a new office groove, why not start by creating a few months that are chock-a-block full with the best teamwork? Below are a few ideas that I would sprinkle into that schedule, but before we dive in, it’s worth taking a moment to assess the size of the problem ahead of us.

The Magnitude of the Problem

There are a variety of studies (of varying quality) that gauge anti-office sentiment. For example, a Flexjobs survey of 2100 people who worked remotely during the pandemic found that 65% wanted to remain fully remote. A recent Pew survey shows a lower percentage, closer to 60%, who want to work remotely, but not necessarily five days a week.

Research by James R. Bailey published in Fast Company shows that resistance to office-based work is strongest amongst younger workers and weakest amongst Gen Xers. But, interestingly, attitudes about the office among Baby Boomers are mixed. And there’s also the much-ballyhooed finding that the higher you go in an organization, the more likely people are racing back to the office — three-quarters of executives expressed this desire.

No matter how you slice it, the resistance to returning to the office is significant, the gap in attitudes between leaders and employees is large, and we’d better be taking both seriously.

Build an Office Worth the Commute

Bodies at rest tend to stay at rest, while bodies in motion tend to stay in motion. Overcoming the inertia of two years of working remotely is hard, so make the office worthwhile for people to get back in motion. Here are 10 creative ideas to get your started.

1. Buddies

We know that remote work made it challenging to build skills (or know where there were capability gaps). I read about one social learning technique that I thought was brilliant. You pair people up and have them interview one another about one thing they have learned and one thing they’re still trying to figure out. This method reduces the friction of asking for help and allows good ideas to spread. Schedule a one-hour buddy session on an office day each month.

2. Customer or Partner Meetups

Many people have gone over two years without interacting directly with key customers or partners — it’s time to fix that. Invite guests into the office and assign someone to host them. Make the host responsible for soliciting questions in advance and setting up the conversations. Have the customers or partners participate in a panel discussion in front of the whole team and arrange smaller meet-and-greets before and after.

3. Mission Control Spaces

Create a central space in the office that’s visually appealing and full of tools to get people contributing ideas and building on one each other’s suggestions. I’d be ordering vinyl stencils of inspiring quotes or company strategies. I’d be covering one wall in paper and buying the funkiest sticky notes I could find. I’d have piles of markers lying around and a stack of stickers that people could use to react to the ideas. I would do everything to make this space as tactile and un-digital as possible. I’d then call out the coolest things I read on the wall in a weekly message with the whole team.

4. Breaking Bread

Create opportunities to eat around a table together. It can be as simple as bringing bagels once a month, as inexpensive as having time for everyone to eat their lunches together, or as elaborate as a full team dinner. What matters is that you create downtime where people can eat and chat informally.

5. New Employee Milestones

I’d have in-office events for newer employees at various milestones. All the new employees from a given month would come together for a full day of orientation. Three months later, I’d have them back for a listening and learning session where you interview them about their insights. At six months, the focus could be on a specific initiative, value, or cultural pillar. You could even have the six-month day be a group outing for community service.

6. Communities of Interest

During remote work, evidence suggests that we did a decent job fostering trust and connection within our intact teams but didn’t do quite as well in maintaining relationships across teams. Now’s a great time to build a few communities of interest that cut across your formal organizational boundaries. It might be a customer experience group that draws from all different functions. It could be a group for those who aspire to leadership positions. Make time and space and provide funding or connections that allow the group to learn together.

7. Joint Team Sessions

Host a session with another team in the organization where you’re strengthening relationships and deepening understanding among team members. Include a tour, a project update, or a deep dive on a topic. Take turns with which team plays host.

8. Office Hours

Set times when you are available to chat with team members on any topic that they’d like. Don’t sit in your office if you want to make it clear that this is welcomed and not an interruption. Grab a spot in a common area and leave your computer behind. Grab a magazine. Or schedule a couple of people to join you at the start of each office hour and invite others to drop in. If you want to be playful, have a theme snack (popcorn, donuts, ice cream sandwiches in summer, etc.).

9. Community Building

If your organization supports charitable work, use an afternoon to break the team into different groups to go out into the community. Give employees some options and flexibility about how they’d like to contribute, and then let the work be the reward.

10. Blue Light Specials

Do you remember “Blue Light Specials” at Kmart? I do. There would be a blue light flashing in an aisle and an announcement of a quick sale on something in that aisle. “Blue Light Special on sleeping bags, Aisle 14!” I think people bought sleeping bags because of the hype and because they didn’t want to miss out. What if you did the same in your office. Number your whiteboards and have a blue light special. “Blue Light Special White Board 3… all great ideas for the name of the new product.” You probably don’t have a public address system, but an email would do. Everyone who’s available gathers at the whiteboard to brainstorm for 10 minutes.

None of these ideas are earth-shattering, but it’s the spirit that counts. Ask yourself, what can you do to make returning to the office worthwhile? How can you add more collaborative, social events to your calendar?

And, most importantly, use this time to get the resistance out in the open. Talk about it. Acknowledge the challenges and be empathetic to the hurdles many are facing. Also, be open to flexible arrangements that allow employees to get the best aspects of the office and the best parts of working remotely. If you do that, I suspect little resistance will be left six months from now.

Known as the “teamwork doctor,” Liane Davey‘s transforms the way people communicate, connect, and contribute. Having worked with organizations, including Fortune 500s, from across the globe, she’s developed a unique perspective on the challenges that teams face — and how to solve them.

Delivering the perfect combination of education and entertainment, Liane shows leaders and their teams how to make an immediate impact on their organizations. Contact us to learn what Liane can bring to your next event as an expert on building effective leaders and teams.