Should we be Incentivised Back to the Office?
Are you considering working from home being a permanent reality? If you are, you are part of 36% of the population who think they will spend all or most of their time working from home in the future. This data, 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 for as lockdown eases and what employees want.
Employers are now dedicating time to brainstorm ways to encourage people to go back to the office for part of the week. With WFH no longer seen as a perk, it’s time for them to think outside of the box.
Companies have been racing to make sure workplaces are sanitary and safe, so 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, in a bid to move away from traditional rows of desks. Businesses are looking to provide comfortable social spaces where colleagues can meet to collaborate in person; private areas for quiet work or one-to-one video calls; technology to enable discussions with remote-working colleagues or clients; and more flexible schedules to allow employees to avoid crowded commute times. There is also 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 in a memo earlier this month that has reportedly met resistance from staff, who want greater flexibility.
Tangible perks on offer include free coffee and food. Compass, which provides corporate catering, says three large investment banks are now offering complimentary food to London office staff. 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”, 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 in office use and encourage some staff to commute in on Mondays and Fridays. Just how sticky such short-term incentives prove once lockdown lifts may depend on post-pandemic budgets. Megan Lyon, chief strategy officer at another furniture maker Herman Miller, best known for the Aeron office chair, warns, “Once you offer free food or incentives, it’s hard to [take] them back”.
Few companies are paying bonuses to staff to use the office again, but 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, 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 per cent in April to 56 per cent in the second week of June. Facebook this month said all employees could work remotely after the pandemic, but 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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