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Returning to the Office: How Executives Can Help Employees Adjust

Returning to the Office: How Executives Can Help Employees Adjust

August 2022


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Apple employees will be returning to the office three days a week from September 2022 onward. Many companies would like to have their employees do the same. Here’s how executives can make the transition easier.

The Latest Developments 

In August of 2022, Apple announced that its employees would return to its offices three days a week starting in September.   

Many Apple employees dug their heels in at the thought of a rigid hybrid work model. Soon after the company announced its plans, AppleTogether (an online community of Apple employees) penned a letter to its leadership titled Thoughts on Office-Bound Work.  

In the letter, they claimed that the decision to have workers return to the office was “driven by fear” rather than a true concern for productivity or employee wellbeing. Additionally, they noted that returning to the office would affect certain demographics more adversely than others, particularly those expected to perform family care work and those living far away. However, Apple has been insistent on its stance.   

Despite employees’ resistance to the idea, Apple is not the only company that wants them back in the office. Goldman Sachs and Netflix share the same view. Unlike Apple, they have entirely foregone the idea of a hybrid model that would allow employees to work from home on certain days. Instead, they have opted for a full return to the office.   

How Executives Can Make the Transition Easier 

It is not uncommon for people to dread returning to an office-based work model. In fact, nearly half of all vaccinated adults are hesitant to resume in-person contact. Individuals who work remotely have also reported an improved work/life balance, savings on commuting costs, and better productivity at home. Some are also concerned about the social aspect, stating that they no longer know their coworkers. 

For organizations that need employees to transition from office-based work, our Human Resources practice group leader, William Brewer, CCP, recommends taking the following steps to make the transition easier for your employees:    

  • Set up a back-to-the-office task force. To create a successful return plan, you should make sure that your employees feel heard and have a means of communicating their concerns and feelings. A task force can help you accomplish this goal. We recommend that you form a cross-functional team of employees to represent your workforce. This group will serve three purposes: mediating with your employees, establishing return-to-work policies, and monitoring employee morale.  
  • Do not rush into it (but stick to your timeline). It is imperative to be clear with your employees regarding when they should return, why it is important that they do, and what measures will be taken to make the transition as smooth as possible. Additionally, we recommend that you give them ample notice of your intention to have them return so that parents who need time to find childcare can prepare. Once you have set a return date, stick to it. Continually adjusting your employees’ expected return date can lead to feelings of uncertainty, which can fuel resistance.  
  • Promote prosocial behavior and new friendships. After almost three years apart, many employees feel that they no longer know their coworkers. This estrangement makes returning to office-based work even harder. You should consider implementing structured team-building activities. They will enhance employee engagement and reinforce a culture of friendship. Although some employees may be eager to return to in-person events, others may be hesitant or remain concerned about their safety. Give your employees the space they need to integrate back into the office environment at their own pace. The importance of showing them patience and support cannot be overstated. Your employees are more likely to embrace a return to the office if they have friends and a support network there. 

The Ultimate Secret to a Smooth Transition

The green reed that bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak that breaks in a storm.” 
—from Aesop’s Fables 

Your greatest weapon is flexibility. While this does not mean giving up on a full return to the office or always accommodating work-from-home setups, it does mean giving employees a caring ear, making your office set up more appealing to them, and reviewing any outdated policies that need to be updated to reflect the changing times.   

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