What Balancing Return To Office With Employee Preferences Looks Like


Workplaces don’t look the way they used to. But even as businesses have mostly adopted a hybrid approach where people juggle working remotely, many employers are eager to bring their staff back to the office on a permanent basis.



That eagerness isn’t necessarily matched by employees. Recent research suggests anxiety to be the root cause for many people to be reluctant to return to work in the office. Reasons for this return-to-work stress included the fear of Covid-19 exposure, the loss of work flexibility, the return to long commutes, wearing masks in the office, and a need for childcare.

In fact, more than half of employees – 55% – said at the beginning of 2022 that they would consider quitting before returning to the office.

South Africa bucks the trend somewhat: with the country’s high record of unemployment rate at 34.5%, employees are less likely to simply quit rather than return to their offices – however there has been an increase in resignations in specific, skilled industries, indicating that South Africa is not immune to the changing nature of the world of work.

These findings show that employers need to be understanding, empathetic and avoid pressuring employees into returning to a work environment they may no longer be comfortable with.

This could negatively impact individual performance, productivity and well-being, but will also have an effect on the overall company culture – particularly for organisations that pride themselves on creating and maintaining a culture of transparency, collaboration and trust. The emphasis for employers should therefore be a shift in promoting the value of purposeful face-to-face reconnection and collaboration.

The best of both: redesigning physical spaces to facilitate in-person and remote work

It is critical for employers to engage with and work alongside their employees to create an enabling environment that considers the operational requirements of the business. This includes making room for different working styles like early birds or night owls, and then being flexible enough to accommodate these ways of working. 

For example, some of our clients have emigrated, so having employees who work at flexible times and are able to call New Zealand at 10pm South African time to catch them early in the morning is helpful. Full-time workers also appreciate being able to contact service agents after traditional working hours.

We have seen great first-hand examples of people who work from anywhere has driven levels of productivity, better work/life integration, and a sense of trust between team members and their managers. Some of our parents particularly appreciate the flexibility to plan their commitments around important time and milestones with their children.

And although there is a sense of connection and togetherness that can only be generated by in-person interaction, this new hybrid reality has illustrated that there are opportunities to create connection and collaboration even as some people choose to work remotely.

Co-creating spaces to work for everyone

A key aspect of this is redesigning physical spaces to facilitate collaboration and stimulation – wherever people are. This means making working spaces more conducive for employees to collaborate, but also equipping them with the technology and resources to interact with those working remotely.

Already, two-thirds of business decision makers globally are considering redesigning office spaces to better accommodate hybrid work environments. A Harvard Business Review case study found, that a space that caters to various modes of working is highly effective. This includes desks for focused individual work, flexible seating for desk breaks, collaborative spaces that encourage focused team interaction and then dedicated spaces for socialising as well.

Certified as a Top Employer*, Momentum Metropolitan is mindful of what constitutes best HR practices and has responded and adapted to the need for repurposed office spaces – and our refurbished offices in Centurion and Cape Town opened in May. These renovated spaces feature hot desks and collaborative meeting and working spaces to encourage and enable greater interaction and stimulation.

A large portion of the Centurion ground floor has been transformed into a mall-like open space to welcome employees, clients and partners for catchups or meetings, with world-class coffee nearby.  Meeting pods, booths and shared workspaces break down the former siloed divisions while the latest technology enable staff to work from anywhere in the building - from hot desks to outside-in landscaped gardens, to quiet rooms for focus time or private conversations, or even prayers and meditation. 

Exploring new workspaces – even if it is simply a different desk with a different view – can help stimulate employees by allowing them to find a space that motivates and inspires them. It also breaks down the silo mentality that characterised many traditional buildings of the past.

Ultimately, it is important for modern companies and business leaders to listen to employee needs, and then co-create a working environment that meets their needs, and the productivity needs of the business.

In a world of work that continues to evolve in a post-pandemic reality, change is the biggest constant. Businesses that want to remain relevant and competitive will need to heed this and work with their employees to create an environment that works best for everyone.






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