Group of workers inside a bright, open coworking office space.
Post-pandemic, many employers are still trying to figure out how and where they want employees to work. Here are some tips to help you make those decisions for your business. — Getty Images/Thomas Barwick

Many small business owners are conflicted about where and when employees should work. Some tried fully remote working during the pandemic and found it lacking. Others work in an industry requiring an in-person presence. Regardless of your situation, it's impossible to please everyone. Instead, you'll need to open your lines of communication and find ways to make the transition smoother. Learn how to meet employee expectations and ensure a seamless return to work.

Returning to work: how employees' expectations changed

The pandemic shifted the priorities of many working adults. Gartner reported that "58% of employees said the pandemic has changed [their] perspective on the desirability of [their] workplace location." Indeed, McKinsey said, "when people have the chance to work flexibly, 87% of them take it." Employee expectations also impact worker turnover.

Pew Research found that nearly one-third of surveyed workers left a job because they wanted to relocate. Of those with a new position, 53% said they "have an easier time balancing work and family responsibilities," and 50% believe they "have more flexibility to choose when they put in their work hours." Likewise, McKinsey discovered that the third most popular reason for leaving a job was the desire to find a "flexible working arrangement."

Reasons and expectations differ among those returning to in-office work. Unlike previous years, healthy amenities aren't a driving factor, with only 7% of Gensler survey respondents ranking it as a top reason. Gensler noted that team collaboration "has been the top reason to come to the office, across all industries and generations, since the beginning of the pandemic." There is also a shift towards private workspaces, although it differs between industries.

[Read more: 10 Ways to Keep Your Employees Happy in 2022]

Acknowledge that your decisions may impact employees differently. Ask for feedback from your staff to learn how it affects various demographics, from single parents to near-retirees.

Make your motives clear

When your workplace actions don't match worker demands, discussing them openly and honestly is important. Your staff may have concerns or feel disappointed. They may not understand the reasoning behind your policies or feel resentful toward those who can work from home. Be transparent about why you put these policies in place and show empathy to ease their return-to-office anxiety. Help manage their expectations by involving your team in balancing workplace, group, and individual needs.

Acknowledge that your decisions may impact employees differently. Ask for feedback from your staff to learn how it affects various demographics, from single parents to near-retirees. This goes for on-site and remote work. Remember that a coordinated approach to the transition will make it easier. And people who contribute to solutions may feel more committed, and even excited, about the return to work.

Workers find value in relationships, purpose-driven work, and a sense of community. Giving people more control over their work environment and activities makes them more productive. In return, employers can use this flexibility to achieve business outcomes while balancing staff autonomy and personal needs.

Explore different workplace models

In the winter of 2021, Gensler found that the hybrid workplace approach was a "leading model" preferred by over half of employees. This approach includes work done at home and on-site. Consider reviewing your model to meet employee demands better and restructure your workplace.

Workplace models include:

  • Choice-based: Workers can determine where and when to work. This may require some office days or a fully remote presence.
  • Schedule-based: This model ensures leadership and teams spend time together on-site. It schedules in-person work weekly, monthly, or quarterly.
  • Purpose-based: Employers review all job roles and identify the main functions, activities, and processes. They select positions for in-office, primarily remote, and part-time remote.

[Read more: How to Develop a Hybrid Office Policy]

Optimize physical and digital workspaces

Your physical layout may need to change to reflect employee demands. Consequently, companies are exploring activity-based working, collaboration hubs, and research and development rooms. They are also removing outdated business practices. Your spaces need to support teamwork, employee development, and virtual experiences. Providing private areas for one-to-one video meetings and deep work is also essential.

With that said, your hybrid meetings should be inclusive, supporting remote and in-person participants. Consider how furniture, screens, and equipment placement affects attendees. Look for ways to incorporate different groups into your conference through updated meeting protocols and user-friendly tools.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

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