Making Sure Employees are Heard Planning a Return to the Office

Are you dreading the conversations with your team about returning to the office? Plan a return to office strategy by using employee feedback for lasting success.

You’re not alone. 

Fostering a safe and constructive dialogue about workplaces can be challenging under normal conditions, not to mention the profound changes that many individuals have experienced while living through a global pandemic.  

The only thing that’s certain about the return to work is that there will be a lot of uncertainty. Some people are more than eager to return to work, some are dreading it, and others are ambivalent. Investing in preparation for return-to-office conversations will pay off because you’ll be more clear, more confident, and more compassionate. 

Don’t fret, we can help cover the common pitfalls to watch out for during these conversations and provide strategies to help you feel more informed and confident about how to approach them. 

Common Mistakes in Planning 

When communication changes in the workplace it is important to stick to what is authentic and personable for employees. Have face-to-face conversations, or make sure that managers are doing so if executives are not.  

First: Be clear on existing company policy 

Are your employees hesitant to return to the office? Make sure to remind them of the existing policies that are in place not only at home and office work, but also their entitlement to health and safety as well as the measures the company is taking to ensure safety is a top priority.  

Be sure to have meaningful, educational conversations that instill confidence in company policies and the direction the company is taking going forward.  

Prioritize flexibility over ‘fairness’ 

Accounting for flexibility with all employees gives them the freedom of choice for their schedules and decisions about returning. Prioritizing “fairness” may not result in any decisions at all or may see some employees sacrificing their needs for others. Instead, consider each employee and their role in the larger office environment and tailor to their needs while allowing for flexibility such as completely remote work for some should they choose. 

Have a team-oriented mindset 

Approaching changes that impact your whole office should always take on a team-first mindset, showing the employees that the decisions being made are being made with the group collective in mind, and that they are a part of something bigger than just an office space in a building.  

Team-oriented workplace decision making has been shown to increase trust and retention of talent as employees feel motivated and valued as individuals in the business.  

Strategies for a Successful Return

Create a framework 

Now of course you don’t just give the green light to staff and say “return on x day if you want!” as that could lead to unintended issues down the road. A clear plan must be in place for return to work that accommodates all employees and gives a clear road map of how the return to office will be accomplished.  

This approach to returning to office should run deeper than addressing the general staff – ask individual teams how they see a return happening, what would work for them, and what issues they experience. 

– Negotiables, non-negotiables 

When discussing with employees, make sure to listen to their non-negotiables for the office, as this will be a key factor in who wants to return and who prefers to remain remote. 

What does the IT team need? What issues does Human Resources encounter that need immediate attention?  

What didn’t work in the office previously? 

These are all questions that can get employees excited about returning and help build the best plan possible and ensure success.  

Schedule Individual Meetings 

– NOT a group setting 

When preparing for the return to work, do not hold one group meeting or communication and then release a plan, hold individual meetings with management, core employees, ask them what they need so that they can feel valued and a part of the process. 

– Give your spiel, but leave time for comments and questions 

Once you have lay out your plan to them, ask – “I’m interested in how you’re thinking about your return to work. What are the criteria that are important to you?” opening the floor to individuals can show upper management things that previously could have been missed. 

Organize A Trial Run 

Rather than jumping in full steam ahead, organizing a trial or slow introduction to the office can be advantageous in the long run, and aid in highlighting areas of improvement with minimal issues if there are only some staff present.  

– Be flexible 

Flexibility is a key part of the workplace that is here to stay and will continue to transform how offices and workplace culture operate. Offering flexible options to staff can not only excite staff to return and give incentive but help to form an all-new kind of workplace in how staff and employees use the office. 

– Be creative 

The level of creativity and flexibility that goes into the plan and office itself must be tailored to inciting excitement and connection between colleagues if the office is designed for collaboration and fits their needs. 

Revisit/Rework the Trial Plan 

Setting a date and timeline for the trial plan can go a long way in finding out what works, too short and there will not be enough data/experience to draw from. Therefore, the timeline must be long enough so that staff and management can get a comprehensive look at if the plan is working and evaluate any weaknesses. 

– Plan vs. Implementation Problems 

As we all know by now, things don’t always go according to our plans. Adjustments must be made and sometimes they don’t work out. You will undoubtedly run into planning and implementation problems throughout your return to office process.  

When encountering these roadblocks, make sure to explore all possible solutions and if the issue is a long-term or short-term one. Consider investing in resources or technology that will help alleviate these problems, such as an IWMS or a booking system to collect data. 

– Self-evaluate 

When implementing a new plan or action items, evaluation can be the key to adjusting before problems arise or confirming that your efforts are in fact a success. Self-evaluation of return-to-work plans can include surveys of employees, walk through of the office during the workday, and monitoring of how facilities during this time to ensure they are equipped to shoulder this new adjusted workload. 

Evaluation can take many forms and it is important to decide on your evaluation criteria early on that will ultimately decide if your efforts are successful or need to be revised to meet your goals! 

– Set a date for the next re-visit 

Timelines are an important part to evaluation, as they outline when processes or efforts should have settled in or taken hold and the actual impact can be measured.  

Setting a date to re-visit plans and evaluations that also stands as a reasonable timeframe should changes be made that they do not disrupt any employee routines.  


Forming effective return to office plans can be complex and daunting, as all staff must be accounted for in the process and ample research to prepare must be conducted. However, investment in the proper technology and resources for return to work such as an IWMS or IoT system to outfit your office can make the transition much easier. Gathering data and evaluation of results can prevent issues with adequate analysis and implementation, making the transition back into office better for all involved.