The Most Divisive Corporate Topic of 2023: Return to Office

Allison Pishko, SVP, Head, Internal Communications


Return to office has been a subject whispered – and yelled – about in board rooms since 2022 and there are still no clear answers in sight. While remote work started as a means of keeping employees and their loved ones safe throughout the pandemic, it’s made way for a broader debate surrounding the long-term value of work-from-home vs. in-office work.

There are cases to be made on both sides of the issue. Employees are reluctant to give up the flexibility of working from home. They relish the work-life balance and the lack of an arduous commute. Many stress they have been more productive working from home, and happier too.

And employers place value on in-person collaboration and efficiencies in decision making when working in person as well as opportunities to grow their staff professionally by having face-to-face interactions with leaders.

Many companies are mandating a hybrid model of work where employees will spend 2-4 days in the office per week – but even this compromise is proving challenging for employees to accept.

In the end, whatever your return to office policy is, how you implement it matters. For those of you in the position of steering a return-to-work policy, here are a few points to keep in mind to ensure the messaging is received with clarity and empathy.

Clearly Communicate Your Company Values

Focusing just on the policy will feel punitive to employees. Instead connect to the broader story of the company’s goals and vision, with the return to office policy as an integrated part of the narrative.

Acknowledge the Pros and Cons to Both Sides of the Argument

Don’t be blind to the fact that there are people on both sides of the argument with legitimate points. Use the debate to address questions and concerns and help explain the policy. Providing an open forum for both perspectives is key to cultivating open dialogue.

Ensure Leadership Buy-in and Pull Through

If leaders are not in agreement with the policy and willing to embrace it themselves, it will never work. Full stop. They need to be seen in person and as champions of in-office benefits. Employees follow leaders.

Remain Consistent and be Willing to Adapt

The message needs to be delivered more than once and on more than one platform. If there is an aspect of your policy that needs to be adjusted, don’t be afraid to make that change. The landscape is constantly shifting so be prepared to make changes to existing policies if needed.

Bring Employees Along on the Journey

Shift the focus when surveying employees from “how is your work/life balance?” to “how does it feel when you meet with your colleagues in person?”.  Help them see the advantages of being in the office while still maintaining a level of flexibility whenever possible.

Create Meaningful Connections

Treat teams to coffee vouchers to use when having a 1:1 in person with a team member, host monthly onsite team lunches, etc. It doesn’t have to be big, but a gesture to show appreciation for the return to office will go a long way.

The one thing everyone can agree with is that COVID-19 has changed the workplace forever. By being transparent, compassionate, and consistent, we can help create a workplace that will serve everyone’s needs.