Article: Charm Offensive: How organisations are persuading employees to return to office

Strategic HR

Charm Offensive: How organisations are persuading employees to return to office

“Return to Office” is easier said than done. No wonder, companies are trying every trick to lure employees back to offices and to make the transition seem less like “a bad dream” but more like “remember the time office used to be fun”.
Charm Offensive: How organisations are persuading employees to return to office

When life gave us Covid - and its disruptions on how and where we do our jobs from, it also gave us work from home. A world where we put on a crisp white formal shirt and paired it with comfortable pyjamas or when we woke up literally seconds before that Monday morning catch-up call. Work was good and just then - the employers wanted us to come back to offices!

As the world learns to live with COVID, organisations across the globe are preparing to transition back to physical office working. The latest to join several big companies who are calling employees to return to the office is Tesla Inc, whose CEO Elon Musk went to the extent of telling employees to return to their workplace or quit!

However, “Return to Office” is easier said than done! It isn’t as simple as sending a “Looking forward to seeing you in the workplace” email to employees.”

Employees at several companies have been showing their ‘great resistance’ against the call to return to offices, and many others became a part of the ‘great resignation’ when asked to do so. 

No wonder, companies are trying every trick to lure employees back to offices and to make the transition seem less like “they’ve woken up from a bad dream” but more like “remember the time office used to be fun”.

Meet-and-greet with leadership

Intel India has undertaken numerous initiatives to make its employees feel comfortable and ease the whole process of coming back to the office.

“At an elementary level, we encourage our managers to be in the office during meetings and switch on their cameras, giving employees a feel of the office environment. We aspire to make the transition more seamless and to ensure the comfort of all employees - they are given a choice between a sharing or an individual workstation.  To make return to the office more exciting, the senior leadership at Intel participates in open forums where employees get a chance to physically meet and learn from them,” says Vijay Colaco, HR head, Intel India.

The company also orchestrates virtual panels from the office, led by the leadership and employees as well. “This provides a platform for employees to share stories of what it finally feels like being in the office. This panel also comprises senior leaders who guide and nurture employees living independently in PG accommodations. We are also focusing on converting previously virtual events like career fairs and training workshops to become hybrid events, allowing employees to attend these in person,” he adds.

It’s raining perks for those who want to return to office

Colaco says they are making the return process more enticing for employees by extending campus benefits and perks like shuttle services, cafeteria services, and onsite gym access.  “To build synergy amongst our teams, we start our team meetings in the office and take them to a nearby restaurant. We use this relaxed atmosphere to connect with our employees and reenergize them. This initiative is called #Check-In: Step-In and Step Out,” he says.

Apoorva Aggarwal, office managing principal at global professional services firm ZS India, says that the company moved at a pace that was comfortable to its people with enough advance communication, checking into the support they needed and making the complete process very agile and accommodative.

“To ensure that returning to office is a smooth and positive experience, resources continue to be enhanced for our people including food, transport, relocation, medical and many others... In fact, many of these are even enhanced to suit the hybrid model e.g. providing allowances to support food-related expenses for the flexible model of working.  Relocation and accommodation are being provided to ZSers relocating to the office locations with support for paying the leased home deposit as well,” she adds.

Optum initiated return to work from office in India, on April 4, on a voluntary basis. “We celebrated return to office with our team members across our sites in India, with fun events and food festivals, raffle prizes, complimentary meals, on-demand fitness sessions, and more,” says Nishid Sachdeva, Vice President of Operations and Country Lead, Optum Global Solutions (India).

Vaishali Mehta, senior vice president, Human Capital Management at data analytics and technology service company Ugam, part of the Merkle and Dentsu network, says the whole communication around who should come to office and why is the first thing to talk about, and then providing transport, gradually providing meal options, giving people (within 100 km) the option to change their base location to the nearest Ugam office location, giving people “relocation allowance” are some of the other benefits.

Nitin Motwani, head HR-India, SHL says before calling their ‘army’, the company is making sure they are not taken aback by the sudden change in their lives.

“This ground setting includes but is not limited to workplace safety .. Securing the workplace for all by regular sanitisation, following COVID protocols, regular health screening, etc., is an important way to lessen the fears and instill trust in all our staff," he says, adding they have also taken care of issues like commuting and accommodation for outstation employees as well as free or subsidised meals at work.

Back-to-work kits

Srikanth Acharya, founder and CEO-OffiNeeds, a custom gifting and corporate merchandise that caters to over 1,000 companies, says many of these companies have asked OffiNeeds to create back to work kits, comprising bags, Bluetooth headphones, bottles, and t-shirts to welcome employees back to office.

“Most corporates we have worked with for these back to office kits have included 5-6 products in the kit and have kept them on the employees’ desks to welcome them. The budget for these kits ranges from Rs 1,000 to Rs 4,000.

“We had never heard of anyone giving back to office gifts earlier. It was expected that the only way to work was from the office. But the last two years have changed all of that. And that’s why organisations have to come up with a lot of strategies, including presenting goodies to get them back,” he adds.  

Until 2020, going to the office was the only way to work. But the last two years have got everyone habituated to working out of home in their pajamas. Changing those habits is going to take some external push, he says, adding these goodies as well as office renovations to add new facilities like gyms and recreational zones will get them back to the office and want to keep coming back, says Acharya.

Fear of missing out?

Colaco says their #BackToOffice Campaign includes posting pictures and testimonials on our blog, detailing how it feels to be back in the office. “We also spin interactive contests around it. Since there is no one-size-fits-all formula, by embracing flexibility, we are working towards creating a dynamic workplace that enables all of us to do our best work,” he adds.

Return to office squads

A woman leader working with one of the Big 4 firms, speaking on the condition of anonymity, notes her company has hired a new team known as ‘Return to Office workforce’ whose KPI is to bring 80%of the resources back in office within FY23Q1.

“They have weekly reporting on the number of people turnaround. They are tracking who has visited office at least once due to any reason - fun activities, leadership connects, trainings, team huddles, farewells, etc. Leadership is equally responsible to connect with people who are not willing to come to office and do one-on-one connect with them,” she says.

On her own part, she says personal space at office, apart from family, social networking, team building, and retention of talent motivated her to return.

Well-coordinated plans for teams back in office

Radha Shriharsha, director HR, Maersk, says their approach to return to office has been led inclusively by people cohorts and leadership to make the transition a natural, exciting, and a memorable experience. “Given that we are a global organisation with colleagues working for multiple geographies while being based in India, we have used several innovative ways of building this engagement in a sustained way through the right use of technology, creating visibility to office seating, access to transportation, well co-ordinated plans for teams to be in office together as required,” she says, adding it was paramount that employees have the flexibility, feel empowered, safe and trusted.

“We hire a lot so there are always exciting reasons for us to bring our new colleagues and leaders into office to give them the true experience of being with a global leader and brand like us. That way, we make the most of our day-to-day opportunities to come together with colleagues in office and remotely at the same time – this is the true value of a hybrid model. For example - Agile squads celebrating key milestones, planning team offsites, recognition days in office, team lunches and birthdays,” she adds.

Redesigning the office space

The WFH period enabled data science and AI engineering company Tredence to realise the importance of office space design and redesigning this has been a core part of its Return-To-Office strategy. Not only have they switched to bigger and better office space, but also commissioned specialised artists and interior decorators to design it to feel like home and foster collaboration, well-being, productivity, and positive outcomes

The company started a return-to-office plan in May with employees invited to return to office for a fixed number of days in a week, in a phased manner, rather than having rigid timings and days.

No fixed working hours

“We at Whoppl believe in having our cake and eating it too. And we do this through a hybrid model where Monday’s are not for cribbing and whining but for taking charge of our week, like a boss. And that is why we WFH on Mondays. We also don’t believe in working hours. We leave it to our Whopplrs to take charge and decide that... to help foster motivation and self-reliance,” says Ramya Ramachandran, founder and CEO Whoppl.

Whoppl Friyayy’s are fun and interactive weekly team-building activities that can include anything from vision boarding to Zumba and yoga.

Balancing people safety and business requirements

 Rishu Garg, chief people officer at Zivame, says for their return to office plans, the company has carefully categorised roles into those which need to be onsite (retail, warehouse, supply chain, operations) and roles that can work remotely (technology, product, category, design, corporate functions).  

“For each role, we discussed a detailed return to office strategy, balancing people safety and business requirements. In onsite roles, flexibility in shift timings, rotational work locations, and support for commute has worked well, and in corporate roles, hybrid plans and team offsites to collaborate helped us attract teams back to office,” she adds.

“Where we work” model

Natasha Tiwary, country HR head, Abbvie India says returning to work will mean managing varied commitments on a personal and professional front for most of us.

“To aid this transition, Abbvie has decided to adopt a work model for our office-based colleagues with predictable flexibility which is called 'Where we work'. With this model, expectation for office-based colleagues is to be onsite typically three days a week, where they can meet teammates and build a strong connect for seamless work culture... With this, we continue to focus on business performance while reinforcing our commitment to, and trust in our people,” she says.

Regardless of the preparedness to return to office, HR leaders say that they can’t deny that hybrid working is here to stay and implementing a strong return-to-office plan needs to be accompanied by clear and flexible hybrid working practices whenever needed to ensure personnel safety and business continuity.

“As the hybrid work model is taking the centre stage, it is also giving the employers and employees the opportunity and flexibility to do what they don’t do while working-from-home, such as engaging, socialising, having conversations, etc. in-person. While our offices have been open for many months now, our leaders and managers are playing a crucial role in facilitating ‘return to work’. Our employees have started to return to office not because they fear that they are missing out, but to break the monotony of work-from-home routine and get a more enriching job experience,” says Rajesh Rai, vice president - people team and head HR, India, GlobalLogic.

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Topics: Strategic HR, Employee Engagement, Employee Relations, #GreatPowerShift

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