Return to Office Policy: A Seamless Transition Guide

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Nowadays, the big question on many workplace leaders' minds is: "Should everyone return to the office?" According to a survey by the Conference Board, not many U.S. CEOs are in a rush to make that happen this year. The future of work could be more about flexibility and less about everyone showing up at the office every day.

But on the other hand, there are companies set on getting their teams back under one roof. They're not trying to be tough; they believe working together in the same space can spark creativity, maintain efficient team dynamics, and get more work done. 

So, we put together the return to office policy guide for those navigating this shift. Whether you're all for heading back or a bit hesitant, we have some tips on making the transition smooth and keeping everyone happy.


  • A return to office policy helps mitigate uncertainty by providing clear expectations for transitioning back to the physical workspace, ensuring employee safety, and maintaining workplace efficiency.
  • Such policies offer benefits like a systematic approach to reintegration, clear communication, boosted employee morale, and legal compliance.
  • Different return-to-office strategies (optional, hybrid, full-time) cater to varying employee preferences and operational needs, balancing flexibility with in-person collaboration benefits.
  • Challenges in implementing return-to-office policies include managing employee morale, cost implications, office space adjustments, and balancing scheduling with flexibility.
  • Environmental considerations and the need for sustainable practices are important when planning office returns.
  • Best practices for a seamless transition include clear and frequent communication, creating an appealing and safe office environment, leveraging workplace technology, fostering trust, and adapting based on feedback.
  • Current trends show a growing employee preference for flexibility and autonomy, with resistance to returning full-time due to concerns over autonomy loss, health safety, and work-life balance improvements.

Return to Office Policy: Definition and Importance

A 'Return to Office' (RTO) policy outlines an employer's guidelines for transitioning their employees from remote work setup back into the physical workspace post-COVID or any other similar episode that might have prompted a substantial period of remote work. The RTO policy often includes plans about who will return and when, protocols regarding health and safety (both mental and physical), incorporation of hybrid environments, if any, changes in workplace design, employee communication strategies, and, most importantly, provisions for continuous improvement.

Why is this important? Because uncertainty is unsettling! An effective return plan helps mitigate that uncertainty by providing clear expectations and instructions about what returning to work will look like - setting everyone at ease. It aids companies in ensuring employee safety while maintaining efficiency in the workplace. Moreover, such policies also ensure legal compliance as workplaces make necessary adjustments to accommodate new norms of being physically present at work after a significant disruption like the pandemic we all experienced.

managers building a return to office strategy

Benefits of Having a Return to Office Policy

A thoughtfully crafted return to office policy has many advantages - not just for the business but also for its employees:

  • Coherent Approach: An established policy helps companies adopt a systematic and incremental approach to getting employees back to work. It's like having a strategic roadmap that guides decision-making at every step.
  • Clear Communication: Clear guidelines bring transparency to communication between management and staff, reducing ambiguity around expectations and helping prevent miscommunication or misconceptions.
  • Employee Confidence: By establishing an inclusive return-to-office policy, you show your team that their safety and comfort are your priority, potentially boosting morale and confidence among returning workers.
  • Legal Compliance: Businesses have legal obligations related to workplace safety measures, particularly in the post-pandemic era. A meticulous return-to-office strategy ensures compliance with all local laws and health guideline directives.
  • Increased Engagement & Collaboration: While remote work has perks, physical offices often foster better collaboration due to spontaneous interactions during breaks or unplanned conference room discussions. With a well-calibrated return plan, innovation can be given a boost!

Comparing Different Return to Office Policies

Understanding the nuances between different return-to-office policies becomes essential with the shift towards more flexible work environments. Let’s explore the key characteristics and implications of optional, hybrid, and full-time return-to-office policies and how each approach aligns with organizational and employee needs.

Optional Return to Office Policy

An optional return-to-office policy is a flexible work arrangement allowing employees to choose whether to work remotely or from the office. This type of policy recognizes employees' varying needs and preferences regarding their work environment. Its’ key characteristics include:

  • Employee Choice: Employees are given the autonomy to decide where they work best, whether in a traditional office setting, from home, or a hybrid of both. This choice can often be made daily, weekly, or through a more structured scheduling system.
  • Work-Life Balance: Such policies are often appreciated for supporting a better work-life balance. Employees can manage their work schedules around personal responsibilities and preferences, increasing job satisfaction and well-being.
  • Recruitment and Retention: Offering flexibility can make an organization more attractive to potential hires and help retain current employees by catering to their desire for a better balance between professional and personal life.
  • Environmental Impact: By reducing the need for commuting, companies can also contribute to environmental sustainability, aligning with broader corporate social responsibility goals.

Hybrid Return to Office Policy

A hybrid return-to-office policy offers a structured yet flexible approach, blending remote work with in-office presence. This policy accommodates diverse work preferences while fostering community and employee collaboration. It strikes a balance between the autonomy of remote work and the benefits of in-person interactions:

  • Balanced Flexibility: Employees benefit from a predefined hybrid work schedule that specifies in-office days. This schedule allows for direct collaboration and team building while retaining the freedom to work from home on other days. This balance enhances productivity and fosters a cohesive team environment.
  • Enhanced Collaboration and Innovation: Scheduled in-office days are tailored to maximize team interactions, brainstorming sessions, and face-to-face meetings. It supports a culture of inclusivity by ensuring all team members can engage in critical discussions and decision-making processes.
  • Personalized Work Experience: By allowing employees to split their time between home and office, the hybrid model caters to individual work styles and life demands. It offers the structure needed for team activities while respecting personal preferences and responsibilities.

Full-time Return to Office Policy

A full-time return-to-office policy mandates that all employees work from the company's office premises during standard business hours, effectively reinstating the traditional office-based work model. By requiring employees to be physically present in the office, this policy aims to harness the benefits of in-person interactions for both operational efficiency and workplace dynamics:

  • Strengthened Company Culture: A full-time office presence helps cultivate a strong, unified company culture. It provides a shared space for employees to experience the company's values, traditions, and social interactions firsthand, contributing to a sense of belonging and team unity.
  • Streamlined Management and Supervision: The policy simplifies managerial tasks and oversight, as team leaders can directly observe and engage with their team members. This direct interaction allows immediate feedback, mentoring, and support, potentially enhancing employee performance and development.
  • Consistent Work-Life Boundaries: A full-time return to the office reinstates clear boundaries between professional and personal life, which can be blurred in remote work arrangements. It delineates a physical separation that helps employees switch off from work mode more effectively at the end of the day, potentially reducing burnout and improving overall well-being.
Feature Optional Policy Hybrid Policy Full-time Policy
Flexibility Maximum, with complete employee autonomy. Structured, with predefined office/remote days. None, with mandatory office attendance.
Work-Life Balance Enhanced by personal scheduling. Balanced by combining remote and office work. Potentially improved separation, risk of burnout.
Recruitment & Retention Highly attractive due to flexibility. Attractive for offering a balance. Could deter those preferring flexibility.
Environmental Impact Reduces commuting, more sustainable. Reduces impact with part-time commuting. Increases commuting, less sustainable.
Collaboration Flexible, might limit spontaneity. Scheduled in-office days boost interaction. Maximizes in-person collaboration.
Company Culture Maintained digitally, less cohesive. Strengthens culture with mixed work. Strong, unified culture from constant interaction.
Management Requires adaptive remote management. Blends direct and remote supervision. Simplifies with full-time office presence.

Different types of return to office policies: a comparison

Challenges Faced by Companies in Implementing Return to Office Policies

Many businesses find it challenging to transition back to the office after getting accustomed to remote work. Understanding these difficulties is the first step toward navigating this complex transition. 

Managing Employee Morale and Engagement

One critical concern during this transition is maintaining employee morale and engagement. Employees who have acclimated to remote work, enjoying its comforts and flexibility, may perceive a mandate to return to the office negatively. Consequently, this could decrease job satisfaction, reduce productivity, or increase turnover rates: 76% of employees are ready to leave their jobs if companies end flexible work schedules. Moreover, this shift poses a significant challenge in attracting new talent: according to Unispace, almost a third (29%) of companies enforcing office returns struggle with recruitment.

To address this concern effectively, companies must incorporate empathy into their RTO policies—asking for employees' opinions before deciding on any changes will make them feel more valued and respected.

Cost Implications

The cost implications of returning to office vary widely but generally include:

  • Real estate management
  • Technology upgrades
  • Health and safety measures
  • Commuting support
  • Employee well-being programs
  • Training
  • Change management
  • Legal compliance
  • Adaptations for hybrid work models 

These costs stem from the need to renegotiate office leases, enhance technology for hybrid work, ensure health and safety compliance, support employees, and manage the transition effectively.

Insufficient Office Space

As companies craft their return-to-office strategies, the traditional office setup with assigned seating appears increasingly impractical, particularly for businesses experiencing rapid growth or downsizing their physical footprint for cost efficiency. This situation demands a strategic reevaluation of workspace allocation to maintain productivity and employee satisfaction without compromising the company's operational needs.

Dedalus, the leading healthcare provider in Europe and one of the largest in the world, faced this challenge while relocating its Vienna office to a smaller space. The move from a spacious environment to a more compact office coincided with active recruitment, and as a result, the conventional model of assigned seating became untenable.

To address this, Dedalus pivoted towards a hot-desking model facilitated by the Yarooms Workplace Experience Platform. This approach allowed for a dynamic allocation of workspaces, accommodating various seating strategies while providing employees with the tools to navigate their workplace effectively. This way, Dedalus set a precedent for flexible workspace management, successfully adapting to the evolving demands of the modern work environment.

Watch the success story: Dedalus x Yarooms Workplace Experience Platform

Scheduling and Flexibility

Implementing return-to-office policies challenges companies to balance scheduling and flexibility, particularly as many adopt hybrid work models. They must navigate a complex landscape of individual preferences, team requirements, and organizational goals to determine who works in the office, who works from home, and when. Moreover, the need for flexibility in work arrangements complicates traditional scheduling methods, pushing companies to innovate in order to maintain efficiency and employee satisfaction in this new work environment.

Environmental Impact

The environmental impact of companies mandating employees to return to the office extends beyond the immediate increase in daily commutes. The operational demands of fully staffed office buildings—including energy consumption for lighting, heating, and cooling—further compound the environmental footprint. This scenario underscores the need for companies to consider sustainable strategies or sustainable workplace technology as integral components of their return-to-office strategies. By doing so, organizations can mitigate some of the adverse environmental impacts of reviving traditional work environments.

Best Practices for Crafting an Effective Return to Office Strategy

Businesses need to formulate a practical and effective return-to-office strategy to navigate the transition from remote work to a physical office environment. Below, we suggest five crucial practices that can enable a seamless shift back to on-site work.

Communicate Clearly and Often

Communication is paramount during significant transitions. Companies must inform employees about changes and offer steady reassurance while addressing their queries or concerns:

  • Maintain a consistent flow of information: Avoid springing sudden changes on employees.
  • Explain the why: Put yourself in your employee's shoes. They will likely have many questions about returning to the office, so logically explain business decisions.
  • Leverage multiple channels: Emails, team meetings, one-on-one sessions - use them all!

By continuously interacting with your staff, you'll bridge any possible communication gaps in your return-to-office strategy.

Make Your Office the Place to Be

Providing an appealing workspace can mitigate some resistance towards returning to the office. The aim is not just to make it 'another place' where employees perform tasks but to create an environment that inspires collaboration, creativity, and productivity.

  • Prioritize safety measures: Ensuring stringent health guidelines boosts employees' confidence in returning.
  • Promote wellness initiatives: Gym memberships or fitness activities show care for employee well-being.
  • Create collaborative workspaces: Facilitating collaborative workspaces can rejuvenate social bonds among colleagues.

Such proactive setups will encourage more workers to embrace your return-to-work strategy joyfully.

Use the Right Workplace Technology

This aspect centers around optimizing operations with modern solutions. The right technology doesn’t hinder workflow but harmonizes remote and in-office task management. For instance:

  • Collaboration Tools, e.g., Google Workspace/Microsoft Teams, support effective teamwork across locations.
  • Video Conferencing Platforms like Zoom/WebEx fulfill meeting needs irrespective of geographical boundaries.
  • Workplace Experience Platforms like Yarooms revolutionize the return-to-office journey by allowing employees to tailor their hybrid schedules and book their desired workspaces for days they choose to work on-site, streamlining the transition process. Furthermore, they equip workplace managers with essential data, enabling the refinement of the workspace to meet employee needs better and enhance their overall office experience.

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Foster an Environment of Trust and Autonomy

Building trust is crucial as employees adjust back to office life. This practice assures them of their value within the organization and promotes responsibility and engagement.

  • Express clear expectations: Transparency about what’s expected helps manage stress levels related to job performance.
  • Demonstrate empathy: Understand that each employee may have unique circumstances that impact their transition process.
  • Encourage autonomy: Giving staff control over tasks enhances a sense of ownership, ultimately driving productivity.

Employees can effortlessly integrate themselves into your return-to-office strategies by cultivating this environment.

Gather Feedback and Adapt

Ensuring that your return-to-office strategy is effective mandates that you stay open to reviewing its progress. Internal experiences are a goldmine for improvement solutions, so ask questions, gather feedback, and analyze it comprehensively. Consider the following routes:

  • Organize anonymous surveys or questionnaires where staff can openly share thoughts on easing back into office life.
  • Establish open-door policies for leaders, making it more comfortable for employees to voice concerns directly.
  • Review macro-level factors such as overall office attendance rates, general morale levels, or productivity trends to identify overriding patterns requiring attention.

Taking this feedback positively will facilitate refining your system until everyone successfully settles into the new normal - truly mastering the art of creating effective return-to-office strategies!

Current Trends in Return to Office Policies

Several notable trends are emerging concerning the return to office policies. Driven by company goals and employee preferences, these patterns provide a unique view of today's evolving workforce dynamics.

Resistance Factors: Why Employees are Ignoring RTO Mandates

Interestingly enough, while numerous companies strive towards implementing a full return to office scenarios, there is a growing resistance among some employees. Why? Harvard Business Review reveals three fundamental reasons:

  • The Rising Value of Autonomy: After tasting the freedom of remote work, many people find it hard to give up their newfound autonomous way of living.
  • Concerns About Health and Safety: Despite advancements in health measures, employees harbor ongoing concerns about the risks of illness and the spread of germs in densely populated office environments.
  • Improved Work-Life Balance: Home-based work has given employees more control over their time—never undervalue the benefit of skipping the daily commute!

Employee Preferences: The Demand for Flexibility

Coming out of primarily home-based work routines generated during pandemic times, flexibility now ranks high on the list of employee preferences when thinking about returning to the office after working from home—as confirmed by Microsoft's Work Trend Index, where 73% voiced their desire for continued flexible remote work options.

Offering such flexibility can often play a pivotal role in staff retention: 54% of workers would consider leaving their current jobs if they weren't provided with flexible schedules. The conclusion? Employees crave a choice: either pop into the office a few days a week or stick with the comfort of their diligent home offices—a sentiment leading us directly towards hybrid work models.

Conclusion: Navigating the Transition Back to the Office Environment

Wrapping up our look into return-to-office (RTO) policies, we can conclude that a successful RTO strategy requires careful planning and a deep understanding of what employees need today: flexibility, autonomy, and a commitment to their health and well-being. Communicating openly, building trust, and using technology to support a smooth transition back to the office is crucial.

Be patient and flexible as you adapt, learning from each process step. It's essential to stay informed about industry trends, like hybrid work models, and use these insights to manage your workforce effectively in these changing times.

Embracing new norms and prioritizing employee welfare will help your company navigate the challenges of updating your office environment. Armed with the right approach, you're set to make a successful transition in this new era, where flexible work arrangements are more important than ever.

return to office policy was successful- employees are back in the office

Return to Office Policy: FAQ

Answering some of the most popular questions about crafting and implementing successful return-to-office policies.

How to Create a Return to Office Policy?

To create a return to office policy:

  1. Start by assessing your organization's needs and employee concerns to determine the scope and flexibility of the policy.
  2. Consult with HR, legal, and health professionals to ensure compliance with local laws and health guidelines.
  3. Define clear guidelines on work schedules, in-office attendance expectations, health and safety measures, remote work options, and communication protocols.
  4. Incorporate feedback mechanisms for employees to express concerns and suggestions.
  5. Communicate the policy to all employees through multiple channels and ensure managers are trained to support their teams during the transition.
  6. Regularly review and adjust the policy based on employee feedback and changing public health guidelines.

How Can I Increase Return to Office Rates?

To increase return-to-office rates effectively, it's essential to address employees' logistical and emotional concerns. 

Start by clearly communicating the benefits of being in the office, such as enhanced collaboration, company culture, and professional development opportunities. Implement flexible work arrangements, allowing hybrid schedules combining remote and in-office work to accommodate different needs and preferences. 

Enhance the office environment to make it more appealing and conducive to productivity by upgrading facilities, creating more collaborative spaces, or offering amenities like free meals or wellness programs. Gather and act on employee feedback to address concerns and improve the return-to-office experience. 

Lastly, ensure leadership sets an example by being present in the office and demonstrating in-person collaboration's value and positive aspects. By taking these steps, you can create a more inviting and supportive environment that encourages employees to return to the office.

Why Returning to the Office Is a Good Idea?

Returning to the office can be a good idea for several reasons:

  • It fosters employees' sense of community and belonging, as face-to-face interactions can strengthen team dynamics and collaboration. Being physically present in a shared workspace allows for spontaneous conversations and brainstorming sessions, leading to innovative ideas and solutions that might not occur in a remote setting.
  • The structured environment of an office can enhance productivity by minimizing distractions and providing access to resources and support that may not be available at home.
  • For many, the clear separation between work and personal life helps maintain a healthy work-life balance and reduces the risk of burnout.

All in all, returning to the office can enhance both the social and professional aspects of work, contributing to overall job satisfaction and organizational success.

How to Deal with Employees Who Do Not Want to Return to the Office?

Dealing with employees who are reluctant to return to the office requires a balanced approach that respects their concerns while meeting the organization's needs:

  • Listen: Understand employees' concerns through open conversations.
  • Communicate: Clearly explain the return-to-office policy and safety measures.
  • Flexibility: Offer hybrid work arrangements or flexible hours.
  • Improve Office: Enhance the workspace to make it appealing.
  • Safety First: Strictly implement health and safety protocols.
  • Support: Provide resources for mental health and stress management.
  • Gradual Change: Introduce a phased return to the office.
  • Feedback: Regularly seek and adapt to employee feedback.
  • Highlight Benefits: Emphasize the positive aspects of office work.

By taking these steps, you can address employees' concerns, foster a positive and supportive work environment, and encourage a more willing return to the office.


Topics: Hybrid & remote work

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