How to Overcome Back-to-Office Resistance

News on the possibility of the end of the work-from-home set-up has been recently going around. With a significant number of sources stating people’s preference for a more flexible workplace option, it’s safe to set the expectation of some level of employee resistance if businesses opt to start bringing them back to the office. 

Even past strategies on location-based pay cuts weren’t received well by many. The strategy was intended to encourage employees to be within close distances to the office in cases where they needed to report onsite. However, information from different organizations just seems to stack up against adopting back-to-office policies.

Business leaders who genuinely believe that their companies can greatly benefit from back-to-office strategies are now challenged to decide whether to satisfy employees’ workplace preferences or to stand up for what they think is best for the organization. 

There have been cases where employees do thrive in changing environments in the workplace. But more often than not, people are quite resistant to change and it might have something to do with neuroscience. Strategy+Business discusses two insights on why change can be a difficult thing to accept in the workplace neurologically. 

The first insight explains that the nature of human memory and its relationship to conscious attention plays a vital role in the resistance to change. It further elaborates that when our working memory is introduced to something new, its natural response is to conduct comparisons against past information. This particular brain process uses the prefrontal cortex which is known to be an energy-intensive part of the brain.

Secondly, the orbital frontal cortex, another part of the human brain, is in charge of detecting what neuroscientists call “errors” (perceived differences between expectation and reality). This part of the brain, when activated, draws metabolic energy away from the prefrontal region. These brain functions cause intense production of neural firing. Indeed, the human brain isn’t wired to take a rest when unfamiliar stimuli are introduced.

Tips to best manage back-to-office resistance

In the UK, Human Resourcing, a recruitment agency, observed employers’ increasing challenges in getting their workforce to return to the on-site setup. Employees just have a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea of returning to the office when they can do their tasks literally from anywhere in the world.

The agency expounds on some of its advice on how to best handle back-to-office resistance.

1. Intentionally listen to employee concerns

People organizers such as HR practitioners and global mobility professionals need to remember that employees were affected significantly by the pandemic. Moreover, recognizing the varying experiences each employee encountered during the pandemic is equally important and has a huge role to play in crafting employee-centered strategies. Thus, it’s only natural for employers to conduct focus group discussions and understand where each employee is coming from. Ultimately, the key insights from these discussions will provide long-lasting value to employees’ wellbeing.

2. Leverage data

After gathering important information from the key players in back-to-office policies, HR and global mobility professionals now have to make well use of relevant data to make evidence-based decisions. Even leveraging external research can help guide decision-makers in making more informed strategies. Professionals just have to take the extra measure in ensuring these sources of information are suitable to the type of strategy they’re attempting to implement in the organization.

3. Gradually implement changes in an orderly fashion

Abrupt changes to the organization’s workplace model will only aggregate the expected employee resistance to the back-to-office strategy. As mentioned, the human brain isn’t wired to take in unfamiliar stimuli seamlessly, and this causes it to use up more energy. Employers can initially execute a hybrid workforce model and gather important observations from its first iteration by asking for feedback from the employees themselves. From there, employers can adjust accordingly and learn what works best for their workforce. An SHRM article reaffirms this advice stating that for many employers and employees, back-to-office policy is going to be a gradual and evolving process.

4. Provide continuous support to employees

One thing companies have learned in the pandemic is the importance of being a people-focused one. Employees were one of the hardest-hit resources in the business realm, so business strategists should push for more long-term support in back-to-office strategies. Without it, companies risk losing employees who are crucial to business continuity. Striking the balance between doing what’s best for the business and the employees will most likely need time to test things out.

Adjusting to the return to the office may take some time to get used to. Plus, getting employees comfortable with the idea of them working on site might be a tall order. Nevertheless, exploring this strategy will prove worthwhile if companies learn to identify crucial observations once they execute back-to-office strategies within their organizations.