How can return to office affect employees after remote work?

Change has been pretty much the only workplace constant over the past few years. There’s been a lot to get used to – especially the shift to home working. As we now learn to live with COVID-19, the changes keep coming. At many organizations, workers are “return to office” for at least some of the working week.

Employee reactions are varied. Some are keen to escape a life of remote work while others are a little more resistant.

If you want to get employees back in the office or you’re moving towards a hybrid working model, you need to understand both perspectives.

When you know what employees gained — and what they missed out on — during their time away from the office, you better understand how your hybrid working model should look.

You’ll then find it much easier to communicate (and sell) the in-person experience, finding a hybrid solution that suits most employees and supports business objectives. Want to cover all the bases as your workforce returns to HQ? Check out Smartway2’s Return to the Office Guide.

The shifting workplace

The workplace has changed dramatically in just 2 ½ years (though they felt longer!)

Back in 2019, most employees were used to full-time, office-based work. According to Pew Research, just one in five Americans whose jobs were conducive to remote work chose to work away from the office.

Fast-forward to March 2020, and the majority of office-based staff were forced to start working from home. By the end of 2020, that included 71% of Americans.

Now, as we move to a post-pandemic future, hybrid working is becoming the “new normal”.

Hybrid working looks different within different companies, but it always incorporates a mixture of remote and in-person working. A five-day in-office week may be a thing of the past.

Gallup polling shows that six out of ten remote-capable employees want their company to adopt a hybrid model. And business leaders are taking note.

They recognize that hybrid working can provide the best of both worlds.

Incorporating remote work helps reduce office overheads. It also offers a work-life balance that keeps employees engaged and helps recruitment teams attract top talent.

A return to office-based work also provides a host of benefits, as we’ll see below.

How a return to office can affect employees after remote work


Employees (and companies) missed out on so much when everyone was working from home.

A new, hybrid workplace model helps us recoup what was lost — and add a few other benefits into the mix too. When employees return to the office, you can expect all or some of the following to happen:

1. A productivity boost

While some remote workers said they felt more productive at home, others said the exact opposite.

People without the space to create their own home office, or people who were working alongside family members or housemates, found the home working environment extremely distracting.

Dedicated office space helps promote productivity in a professional environment. It also has all the equipment and facilities employees need to do their job. Fewer distractions and fewer friction points throughout the working day make for a more engaged and productive workforce.

2. Increased socialization

Lots of people reported feeling lonely during their time working from home. Many were left feeling isolated and disconnected without the colleague interactions we took for granted pre-pandemic.

Loneliness affects employees’ mental health and has a knock-on effect for companies too. Employee loneliness can lead to sick days, reduced productivity, and increased staff turnover.

The office environment provides lots of opportunity for informal social interactions — the kind that helps employees to feel happier and healthier.

3. Better health and safety

When employees are in the office, you control the working environment.

As well as providing the social interaction that supports good mental health, you can provide equipment and benefits that support good physical health.

Ergonomic desks and chairs, healthy snacks, and office spaces with lots of natural lighting all help employees stay fit and healthy.

4. Improved work-life balance

While work-life balance has been the big buzz phrase of the pandemic, its effects haven’t been felt equally across the remote working population.

For some, the lack of distinction between home and work environments has led to an “always-on” mentality. It’s hard to shut the door on work when your work resides at home.

Inevitably, some workers will find it easier to achieve work-life balance when they return to the office, and there are clearly defined spaces for each.

5. More opportunities for collaboration

Remote working led to a 23% decrease in team collaboration. When email and video conferencing were the only available methods of communication, team working became more difficult.

Just take a look at Microsoft’s experience. They found that departments within the company became more siloed when employees were working remotely. They also found that the company structure became a lot less dynamic.

On-site workers feel more connected to their colleagues and more likely to engage in spontaneous conversations.

These interactions facilitate both collaborations and shared creativity.

How to maximize your company’s return to the office

While employees will return to the office, it’s unlikely that they’ll do so on a full-time basis — at least right now.

So how do you make hybrid working work for you?

First off, its good to understand the potential benefits and prioritse the most important ones to focus on. Then its a case of making these benefits happen by creating the right conditions for employees to come back to the office more regularly, and encourage that behavior to become habitual again, over time. If this is not a great experience to start with then employes are less likely to schedule time in the office. Questions like; how often and when should employees come into the office? How will you promote trust across your hybrid working environment? Will help encourage the right behaviour.

You also need to rethink the office environment. The office has to be an appealing space where employees want to spend time. What’s more, it has to support all of those activities made more difficult by remote working.

Offices have to offer increased collaboration, socialization, and distraction-free working opportunities, which means using your space more intentionally.

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Want to create a more dynamic office environment? Use Smartway2’s workplace scheduling solution to book desks, equipment, and meeting spaces.Request your free demo today to find out how Smartway2 can help your company return to the office.


Jackie Towers

Last updated April 29, 2022