Businesses face an upward struggle trying to force employees to return to the physical office after many workers have become accustomed to – and prefer – the improved work-life balance that remote work allows them.
Some workers, particularly those whose work can be done just as well – or even more effectively – from home, are reluctant to return to the physical workplace, especially whenin 13 states of the USA
“Companies are trying to answer the question, how do I convince people that office work brings value that they wouldn’t have if they worked remotely?” said Ben Friedrich, professor of strategy in the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
How do companies get their employees back into the office?
Pandemic Puppy Scholarship
A number of companies offer workers pet stipends, a monthly sum they can spend on dog walking, petsitting, or some other form of day care for their pets that they have become accustomed to spending all day with , while working from home during the pandemic.
Jeanniey Walden, human resources expert and chief innovation officer at DailyPay, an on-demand payments platform, said pet grants are popular, especially given the surge in new pet ownership.
“People bought pets when they were quarantined and it’s difficult when you’ve just spent two years with your pup to go from 24/7 care to leaving them alone for eight hours when you are in the office,” Walden told CBS MoneyWatch.
DailyPay is among employers planning to offer pet sponsorship to workers. “It’s going to be a fixed amount each month that you can spend however you like. You can hire a dog walker or cat sitter to come to your home or take your pet to day care,” she said.
Other companies with job listings on the Adzuna job board, including Google, Purina and digital media company Refinery 29, describe their offices as “dog-friendly,” according to Paul Lewis, Adzuna’s chief marketing officer.
A total of 1,300 job listings on the site describe offices where workers can bring their puppies.
“Big brands are trying to get you into the office, making sure you can bring your loved ones as pet buying has skyrocketed during the pandemic,” Lewis told CBS MoneyWatch.
Nearly 400 employers who post vacancies at Adzuna offer new pet parents paid time off, a perk known as “paternity leave.”
“We’ve seen a number of companies introduce this as a new benefit,” Lewis said. “It’s a great way to befriend a new pet and make sure it’s okay before you finally have to bring it into the office.”
Some companies are even beginning to experiment with true four-day workweeks, making employees more inclined to spend at least a few days a week in the office.
“Although it’s not common in the US, some companies are starting to experiment with it, so maybe people are more willing to come into the office some days if they have more flexibility to do whatever they want the other days.” ‘ said Professor Frederick.
Crowdfunding company Kickstarter is among the employers testing a shortened workweek.
Tech companies were ahead of the curve when it came to embracing remote work. But as other industries went remote during the pandemic, it became the norm — not a work perk.
“One of the main reasons companies are interested in adopting four-day workweeks is that remote working has become a minimum expectation in many industries,” said Joe O’Connor, CEO of 4 Day Week Global, a nonprofit-supported organization Companies conducting pilot programs for four-day workweeks.
“It’s no longer a competitive advantage when everybody’s doing it, and they’re looking for new things that give them an advantage,” O’Connor said.
These days, there’s such a thing as a free lunch — another perk that companies are offering workers to commute to their physical workplaces. In addition to catered meals, some employers also offer free alcohol and cappuccino.
A department at the Kellogg School of Management has introduced free lunches for employees twice a week, Professor Friedrich said.
“They introduced a free lunch to coordinate faculty to come into the office and there are positive impacts such as the discussion of new ideas, feedback and lessons happening randomly in informal conversations. When that’s facilitated, people realize what they’re missing,” he said.
In general, companies are trying to create more social work environments.
“Companies are doing everything they can think of to make the office more fun and social,” said Walden of DailyPay. “Many companies offer yoga and meditation during the day to help with the mindset shift that comes from walking to the home environment to the work environment.”
But at the end of the day, incentives should be “more than free beer,” said Friedrich.
Peter Schnall, epidemiologist and founder of Unhealthy Work, which studies how the work environment affects the health and well-being of individuals, said happy hours in companies are a bad idea anyway as we’re still in the midst of the pandemic and drinking requires workers to drop their masks.
“Of course they want people to go back to the office, but in the conditions of the epidemic waves, it’s just premature,” he said, adding, “Unless you don’t care if the employees get sick or not, do you.” They think if they get sick they won’t die because they’re younger – but forget all about transmission to other people.”
Schnall claims that forcing employees back into the office part-time will not achieve the goal of better collaboration or improved morale anyway.
“The idea of people coming into the office one day a week – what’s the argument for that? You will develop camaraderie because now people are coming to work because they are being forced to, even though they don’t want to. And now you’re afraid of getting infected? I don’t think so,” he said.
Formal wear had already fallen out of favor with the professional class, with workers shifting away from restrictive office attire such as ties and high heels in the last decade, opting instead for crisp shirts and flats. The pandemic accelerated the rise of casual wear in the workplace, allowing employees to go about their work out of sight of their bosses in sweatpants and sports bras.
To ease the transition back to the workplace, a number of employers are relaxing their dress codes, according to HR experts.
“People have completely lost their dress codes at home and some companies are trying to embrace that,” Friedrich said. “Some people might appreciate being able to wear their nice clothes again, but they’ve also gotten used to being less formal, so companies are definitely dropping the tie.”
What do employees really want?
But what employees really want is flexibility.
“I can’t think of any other benefits that work other than giving employees the flexibility to choose when they’re in the office and when they’re not,” said Jaemi Taylor, chief human resources officer at Allegis Partners, a global recruitment firm. “Even cash doesn’t work anymore. People have adjusted their lifestyles and the dynamics of their families and are not willing to give up that flexibility to go back to the office.”
Taylor calls perks like on-site barbers and chefs “tricks of the past.” “They are not desirable,” she said. “Now it’s all about time and decisions.”