Strategic shifts for return-to-office success

Gartner cautions against hasty office returns, stressing the need for purpose and transparency to impact productivity and retention.
By: | December 5, 2023

Forcing employees back to the office without a clear purpose and open communication can backfire, harming employee productivity, retention, and performance, warned Gartner. Instead, organisations should prioritise three key strategies: aligning purpose with place, motivating with honesty, and building genuine inclusion.

“Return-to-office mandates can feel like an about-face in employee flexibility, autonomy, and wellbeing when it lacks meaning and reason, which is starkly at odds with the more human-centric corporate purpose many organisations have shifted towards,” said Neal Woolrich, Director, Advisory in the Gartner HR practice.

Gartner’s data from Q3 Global Talent Monitor (GMT) showed that location is a top priority for jobseekers in Australia. The challenge with mandates lies in justifying why being physically present matters if the work itself does not require it, as Woolrich explained, “We keep hearing that most employees feel more productive working from home, so it’s baffling the lack of rational reasoning given by so many organisations in mandating employees return to the office.”

A June 2023 Gartner survey found 48% of employees believe office policies favour leadership preferences over employee needs. Furthermore, over 50% of employees opt for remote work due to a perceived lack of benefits in going to the office. Woolrich stressed motivation through transparent communication instead of mandates to avoid a trust deficit. Leaders are advised to share the rationale behind return-to-office policies.

READ MORE: More organisations empowering HR leaders to do more

Despite organisational diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) efforts, Gartner’s GTM survey found a decline in Australian employee sentiment on workplace culture and inclusion. Mandating office presence might seem like an equaliser, but the survey found remote employees experience 10% higher inclusion.

“Breaking away from the prevailing mindset of office uniformity and conformity is key,” Woolrich concluded. “Organisations must offer an employee-centred workspace where employees feel as comfortable and connected in the office, as they do at home. This requires understanding and empathising with employees’ unique situations and asking what’s working, what’s not, and what can be done differently.”