Why it’s time to reframe the ‘return to work’ conversation

July 18, 2023

It’s said that a journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step. This appears to be particularly true of hybrid working. While the benefits of spending time in the office have been eulogized, gamified and incentivized, resistance to the ‘return to work’ message is also starting to grow.

Last month, Salesforce pledged to donate $10 to local charities for every day an employee came into the office between June 12 to 23. Additional donations were to be made for each remote employee who attended a company event during that window.

Google took the more direct approach of making in-office attendance a factor when it came to Googlers’ performance reviews.

However, in May, 1,800 Amazon employees responded to a mandated 3-day-a-week return to the office by staging a walkout, with an additional 20,000 employees signing a position to persuade Amazon to rethink its position.

In the DWG Impact podcast episode, Designing connected workplaces for tomorrow, DWG’s Director of Knowledge, Shimrit Janes, reframes the narrative by asking “if we’re going to now evolve into something that is sustainable, how can we make it so that this idea of hybrid working is more organic, is more fitted to how people want to be working, is driven by our needs and our choices, rather than being forced on us?”

Isn’t it time organizations did likewise?

Insights from Shimrit’s report, Hybrid work reimagined. Advanced practices for connected workplaces, explore the structures and enablers that form the foundation of hybrid working. Podcast host, DWG’s CEO Nancy Goebel, suggests that the paper encourages big picture thinking, not least on the impact of the language we use around hybrid working. The much-used phrase ‘return to work’, for example, implies that management believes that people aren’t working if they aren’t in the office, which will undercut any hybrid working initiative.

Nancy and Shimrit also discuss the impact of different models of hybrid working on diversity, equity and inclusion. Marginalized communities are more likely to take up flexible working and working from home. It’s important that managers are aware of the biases that may result from this – and how they can model healthy hybrid working to remove the office as the ‘centre of power’.

In the absence of any obvious solutions or a clear path forward, Shimrit encourages organizations to embrace the concept of a joint discovery with employees and a purpose-driven approach, with a mindset of “we’re going to work together to find this out, and we’re going to listen to you and adapt as needed, which is going to be essential because there is no one answer”.

Related resources

Hybrid work reimagined. Advanced practices for connected workspaces

Download the free excerpt

Read the related blog

Categorised in: Employee experience, Future of work, Hybrid working, Leadership, Research reports

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