The Great Return - Decisive times for how employees return to the physical workplace

Employers are either mandating their staff to come back to the office full-time (or some version thereof, recently made (in)famous by Tesla’s Chief Elon Musk) or trying to attract their staff back into the workplace, organically, a few days every week.

Office Workplace

While there is no “correct” way of bringing the workforce back, it’s important to understand the nuances and their potential impact.

Why return to the office?

One main reason: Cohesion.

Most people have entered the workforce before the pandemic of 2020 and are accustomed to managing, collaborating, and executing business in person. In turn, organisational cultures have been built on physical presence, and there is merit to regaining the cohesion that in-person interaction and idea exchange provides.

Some degree of return to the office is important, whether hybrid or a complete return to the workplace, depending on the management, employees, and the function they perform.

Employee Engagement: Hanging in the balance

Our observation at Knight Frank has been that engagement rates of the workforce across the world have plummeted– despite the flexibility that has been brought on by the pandemic and public health crisis. In organisations where there is a firm mandate to return to the workplace, employees are resorting to resigning from their jobs in search of flexibility.

Overall, for management, it seems to be a lose/lose situation when it comes to employee engagement whether employees are given flexibility or asked to return to the office.

Clear and Conscious

Delivering a robust and planned return to office strategy needs two major components:

  1. Attract people back, not mandate - create an employee inclusive strategy and change management to focus on the balance between choice and collaborative needs.
  2. Provide clarity - Develop or utilise tools that allow people to be clear about “who’s where and when” – these include hybrid schedulers and consistent communication.

Attract people back to the workplace

We are social creatures at the end of the day, and when provided with choice backed by rationale, the idea of being “asked” (or surveyed) about the return to the office is a strong statement from the management that they listen and will act on what employees desire to be productive. Creating a destination in the workplace, such as physically revamping the office to suit a more fluid workforce, will also help volumes in making the office more productive than home.

To sustain the impact of this effort, a clear communication and feedback forum for ironing out any challenges when people do return – whether hybrid or full-time – will reinforce the confidence in the culture and management’s intent to listen. This change management is not likely a short process, but an ongoing effort to have employees want to be in the office, and not be “asked” to return.

Provide clarity in a fluid workplace environment

Simple actions and tools that allow teams to clearly communicate how they are scheduled, which days, and which timeslots they are in the office will help alleviate any stress relating to visibility and being present.

Some examples of hybrid work schedulers and space assignment planners include deskbird and Pult, but there are a plethora of choices that enable employees to get the best out of the hybrid workplace.

The adoption of these tools needs to come from the leadership, and as with any good change management endeavour, needs to be championed by each team.

In summary, it is not a matter of “how many” staff return to the workplace, but “how” the fluid and hybrid future is managed. Using clear communication, the right tools, and a genuinely inclusive mindset will help ease this transition into the next decade of work.

Read more or get in touch: Samarth Kasturia

Courtesy: Knight Frank

Knight Frank

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Notes to Editors

Knight Frank LLP is the leading independent global property consultancy. Headquartered in London, Knight Frank has more than 20,000 people operating from 488 offices across 57 territories. The Group advises clients ranging from individual owners and buyers to major developers, investors and corporate tenants. For further information about the Company, please visit

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