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Should You Go Back to the Office (Now or Ever?)

HR considerations on whether it even makes sense to go back to the office for your business

Elle Mason

by Elle Mason - May 5th, 2021


We’ve covered a lot of materials on how to go back to the office, or how to navigate the new normal, but we haven’t talked about if businesses should actually go back at all. This informational explainer will cover HR considerations on whether it even makes sense to go back to the office - for your business.

Pros and Cons of Returning to the Office

Pro: Battling Isolation - While some have enjoyed the reprieve, others have felt that the combination of remote work and pandemic restrictions have created a heightened and in some cases, near-debilitating sense of isolation. Returning to the office would break up this difficult period for people who may be feeling this way.

Pro: Culture - Although efforts have been made to translate culture remotely, many people think there's nothing like the feel of the culture in a positive shared office environment. For those people, a return to the office would be a welcomed return to the social atmosphere, water cooler discussions and activities.

Pro: Normalcy - Working remotely and managing school closures and similar constraints intensified the professional pressure of women and caregivers throughout the country - resulting in a massive reduction in the workforce. Returning to the office could represent a shift towards "normalcy" and reintegration back into the professional world for many people.

Con: Health Concerns - Despite vaccinations, COVID-19 is still a major concern and risk for the country. Management will have to ensure they've made the work environment as safe as possible, and manage people's anxiety, concerns and fears around the return to the office and how safety will be prioritized.

Con: Costs - Maintaining an office space - especially a large one - is expensive and requires maintenance. Businesses who stay remote can pass these savings onto employees by giving them a modest stipend to improve their home office, and still save money.

Pros and Cons of Staying Remote

Pro: Flexibility - Remote work comes with increased flexibility that many employees have enjoyed. Whether they've shifted their schedules, locations or working days, many people have found joy in being able to alter work to meet their lifestyle needs.

Pro: Balance - With the flexibility of remote work comes improved work-life balance. Beyond the hours of commuting saved, employees are also better able to integrate daily life tasks like laundry, cooking, picking up kids from school, and more.

Pro: Trust - While it may not have started this way, over time, working remotely and reliably begins to build trust amongst teams. Rather than looking at people's time spent in the office, people are now evaluated on their output - facilitating productivity and the ability to trust your colleagues.

Con: Culture - Although it's not impossible, it can be a bit more challenging to maintain or create a strong company culture through remote work. Many people may miss the organic interactions and connections that come from a shared office environment.

Con: Isolation - Many employees, particularly the ones that may live alone or be following strict pandemic protocols, report feeling isolated with remote work, and genuinely miss the connection and social atmosphere of the shared office.

What should be factored into this consideration?

Industry: How amenable is your industry to remote work? It may be much easier in some

(e.g. software) versus others (e.g. manufacturing).

Company size: How large is your company? What is the geographic spread? How many offices would you need to maintain?

Commute: What is the average commute of your employees? How will they feel about resuming when it will equate to an extended work day comparatively?

Office rent price: How much money will you need to budget to accommodate your employees adequate office space?

Employee engagement: What do your employees want and prefer? Have you solicited their feedback and input through conversations or surveys?

For further consideration about health concerns, experts from the Harvard Business Review also posed a number of questions, like:

  • When is the right time for employees to return?

  • Who should return to the workplace (and when)?

  • How will you protect employees who come to work?

  • What role can testing play in making workplaces safer?

  • What should you do if you discover an infected employee in the workplace?

  • When can employees return to business travel?

  • How can you meet employees' growing mental and emotional health needs?

  • How should we communicate around return to the workplace?

The ultimate conclusion is that it depends - but make sure that you're considering a number of perspectives in order to come to the most informed decision for your office. And as you consider whether you want to return to the office, remember that the GoCo on-demand support advisors can give legal advice, as well as People advice on additional considerations to make before deciding what’s best for your business.