How to Get Remote Workers to Want to Return to the Office



Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary recently complained on Real-Time with Bill Maher that some of his most valuable employees have decided they’d rather quit than resume commuting to the office. That’s true of about half of U.S. workers, according to Bloomberg.

While O’Leary seemed to be taking this new attitude in stride, some CEOs aren’t happy with the change. For example, Sean Bisceglia, CEO of the consumer research firm Curion in CNN Business:

“What we are really missing is that creativity, and that spontaneity and the ingenuity and talking to your teammates face-to-face. The whole creativity has kind of been gutted without people being together. I’ve seen a big cultural effect of connecting to your co-workers.”

While I’m a big fan of working from home (and have done so for over two decades), Bisceglia has a point. While an accountant, for example, can easily work from home, creatives find it easier to bounce ideas around in person rather than through Zoom.

Most CEOs who dislike remote working are arm-twisting their employees to start commuting. That’s dumb. A better approach is to create an office environment that people prefer over their home offices. Here’s how:

1. Give them private offices.

According to overwhelming research, workers hate open plan offices. They hate the noise, the distraction, the lack of privacy, and the easy way germs spread in such environments. They especially hate cafeteria-style-hot desking.

A private office, by contrast, can become a worker’s home away from home. They’re quiet and less distracting, maybe more so than the average home office. If a worker needs privacy to get something done, a closed door communicates that better than headphones.

Private offices also increase face-to-face collaboration, because two or three people can have a meeting without disturbing everyone else.

2. Compensate them for the commute.

This one’s easy. Treat commuting just like you’d treat an employee using a personal car for business purposes. I don’t know how that would affect taxes, but if if you want workers to come to the office, you need to recognize that it’s costing them extra money to do so.

If they commute by rail, you should obviously pay their fares, and some extra for the time they’re spending in transit.

3. Offer really great coffee.

Of all the in-office perks you can offer, none is more effective (for the 95% who drink coffee) for getting folk into the office than coffee that’s significantly better than they can make at home. An in-house gym and free food wouldn’t hurt either.

When I say “great coffee,” I mean buying fresh beans, having a coffee grinder, multiple Chemex brewers, an espresso machine, and all the supplies people need to be their own baristas. And assigning (and pay) somebody to restock and clean the coffee area.

4. Fire all the *ssholes.

One of the best features of remote work is that the office *ssholes are far easier to tolerate when they’re in a little box on the screen rather than always up in your face. So if you want workers to actually prefer driving into work, you’ve got to dump the jerks pronto.

BTW, you might want to do some self-assessment to determine whether you’re the *sshole who’s making your workplace miserable. (Hint: if you’ve ever yelled in a meeting, you’re the *sshole.) If so, maybe you should consider working from home. And get therapy.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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