15 February 2022 11:38:40 IST

Ways to overcome return-to-office resistance

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In fits and starts, employees who were working remotely for most of the pandemic are now being asked to return to the office. Leaders argue for a resumption of in-person work for increased collaboration and enhanced innovation. But many employees are balking as they liked the flexibility, autonomy, and safety that came with remote work.

They also cite legitimate reasons for not wanting to go back: Covid infection risk, primarily, but also long commutes and work-life balance. When forced to return, some are opting to become part of “The Great Resignation.”

How does a leader tackle this problem? Just like managing any other kind of organisational change with professional  and personal implications. Change always engenders resistance in some, enthusiasm is others, and all the variations in between.

Identify and categorise: The degree of resistance varies according to generation and job stage. Some studies, based on research, say, those early-career employees want to remain at home, most of those in the middle stage want to head back to the office, and those in the later stage have mixed reactions. Factor this into your investigation of who stands in which camp.

Listening: Resistance is often rooted in feelings of “not being heard.” So, listen.

Reinforce benefits: Present the facts, state the case — or better yet have their peers do so — and let them make up their own minds. If leaders believe it’s important for people to return to the office, they need a legitimate plan for convincing everyone that it’s the right thing to do.