Do we Need Incentives to go Back to the Office?

Do we need incentives to go back to the office?

Are you considering working from home being a permanent reality? Would you need incentives to return to the office? If you are, you’re part of 36% who want to spend most of their time working from home in the future. This data was given by the UK’s Office for National Statistics. Also showed that nearly 40% of businesses expect 75% of their workforce to return to the workplace. It’s clear a gap is emerging between what employers hope and what employees want.

Employers are now dedicating time to brainstorm ways to encourage people to go back to the office. With WFH no longer seen as a perk, it’s time for them to think outside of the box.

At the moment, incentives to return to the workplace, fall into five broad categories.

Hygiene Incentives

Companies have been racing to make sure workplaces are sanitary and safe. This is to ensure employees definitely turn up to work. “What we can’t do is open up our offices, invite our employees back and then provide a suboptimal experience,” says Ken Raisbeck, head of occupier advisory for CBRE, a real estate services company.


Many businesses had pre-pandemic plans to create more friendly office designs. Businesses are looking to provide comfortable social spaces where colleagues can meet to collaborate in person. With private areas; technology to enable discussions with remote-working colleagues or clients; and more flexible schedules to avoid busy commutes. There is a massive demand from young staff to return to the office.


Many employers have started reminding staff of the importance of in-person creativity and collaboration. “I know I’m not alone in missing the hum of activity, the energy, creativity and collaboration of our in-person meetings and the sense of community we’ve all built,” Apple chief executive Tim Cook said. This reportedly was met resistance from staff, who want greater flexibility.

Food perks

Tangible perks on offer include free coffee and food. Compass, which provides corporate catering, says three large investment banks are now offering complimentary food. Where they have in-office gyms or swimming pools, companies are cautiously reopening them. 

Raisbeck of CBRE says landlords, employers, local businesses and local authorities are also starting to organise “placemaking” with Covid-secure events. Such as live music gigs in shared outdoor spaces or reception areas. 

One obvious challenge, he says, is to “flatten out” the midweek peak and encourage commute on Mondays and Fridays. These will be put to the test once lockdown lifts depending on post-pandemic budgets.

 Megan Lyon, chief strategy officer at Herman Miller, warns “Once you offer free food or incentives, it’s hard to [take] them back”.

Cash Incentives

Few companies are paying bonuses to staff to use the office again. There are some companies that are offering giftcards and vouchers. 

CoStar, a real estate data company, made headlines with its decision in April to randomly reward one US employee $10,000 every day. This was provided they were vaccinated and working in the office at least one day a week. The cash handouts have now ended, but a trip to Barbados and a Tesla are still on offer. The primary aim of CoStar’s prize-giving was to encourage staff to be vaccinated. But the proportion of workers in its US offices has jumped from 11% in April to 56% in the June. 

Facebook said all employees could work remotely after the pandemic. However, their salaries would be re-adjusted if they moved to lower-cost regions. That is a luxury that may not be allowed to other employers. Some of which are having to offer perks simply to fill vacancies in a tight labour market.

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