The keys to achieving an employee-centered return to the office [Q&A]

As companies begin to announce plans to bring workers back to the office, many employees have publicly pushed back. People don’t want to go back to work and go through all the stress that comes with it, including long commutes, parking costs, and loss of work-life balance.

Zach Dunn, Co-Founder and Vice President of Customer Service at Robin, has helped hundreds of companies including Twitter, Peloton and Toyota implement comprehensive Return to the Office (RTO) strategies that have gone smoothly and paved the way for an efficient hybrid workplace model. .

We spoke to Zach to discuss how the traditional office model has irrevocably changed and what businesses can do to help their employees thrive in a hybrid office.

BN: What is the ideal RTO strategy?

ZD: The answer is simple: there is no such thing as a perfect RTO strategy.

The only mistake companies are making right now is moving to a permanent office or remote work environment. Many companies have started to roll out hybrid work models and have experienced a well-publicized initial employee reluctance. It’s critical to look at these issues for what they are: an unspoken recognition that the traditional office experience doesn’t support employees. 2020 overturned the traditional workplace model when workers discovered they could do the vast majority of their work tasks from home.

Rather than forcing workers to go to the office every day, many forward-looking companies see the value in meeting the needs of their employees. The office takes care of the work in progress, it does not only accommodate people who work for the same company from 9 p.m. to 5 p.m. Many companies realize that employees want flexibility and feedback on how and where they work.

BN: Why is there so much hype around the hybrid working model?

ZD: A recent Ernst & Young study showed that 90% of employees want some form of “flexibility in when and where to work” after the pandemic.

Remote working has been touted by many workplace experts for years, but has been frowned upon by many business leaders. The past year has proven that almost all of these fears are not true. People have stayed engaged, worked hard, and delivered historic returns for many companies despite what by any conventional measure has been an incredibly stressful year. The genie is out of the bottle and most employees don’t want to come back to the office full time.

Before the pandemic, businesses lost billions of dollars in healthcare costs and sick days due to stress at work. Daily trips averaged about an hour round trip per day. The hybrid work model is the recognition of employers that we can improve upon the traditional office model to create better work-life integration for people. For the past decade or so, a “culture of turmoil” permeated businesses and wrested every drop of productivity from employees. However, this has come at the expense of the health and well-being of the employees. We have the technology to improve worker engagement and productivity, so why not use it?

BN: What are the challenges of setting up a hybrid workplace?

ZD: Hybrid work doesn’t give employees complete autonomy to do what they want when they want. Organizations have the power to define the employee experience (from onboarding to advancement and retention) and should not give up this role. Communication is essential.

Hybrid work forces companies to loosen control over the workplace. Allowing people to proactively choose where and how they work offers immediate engagement and retention benefits. The employee-employer dynamic is changing and companies must adapt to develop a work culture that transcends the place.

BN: Do you think the office is dead?

ZD: Clearly, no. A May Harvard Business Review article noted that only one percent of organizations plan to stay “only remote” after the pandemic. Offices provide a central location for colleagues to collaborate, socialize and connect with their employers. Hybrid work models may also be better suited to working mothers and other employees caring for young children, a group whose working lives have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and deserve additional attention and support for go forward.

Rather than simply acting as a central workplace, companies are turning their workspaces into specially designed interactive “clubs” where employees collaborate with their colleagues on essential projects and utilize company resources. Workplace leaders take inventory of their physical and digital work tools and ensure equitable access to their workforce. Common questions we ask our clients include:

  • Are there enough targeted work areas for employees?
  • Are the conference rooms accessible to all departments and employees?
  • Is your digital workspace accessible to all of your employees, regardless of location or technological skills?

These questions help organizations design effective workspaces that match employee expectations and attract and retain top talent.

BN: What’s the best way for companies to ensure a successful RTO strategy?

ZD: The good news is that employees seem eager to return to the office to some extent. Our research shows a 40% increase in the number of U.S. employees working in the office in May, and we expect those numbers to continue. There are two ways that companies can deploy an effective RTO strategy: establish a service in the workplace and create a feedback loop for employees.

Managers in human resources, IT and facilities must guide the experience of office workers. This interdisciplinary panel will implement workplace policies and communicate company expectations and goals. The overall goal is to eliminate the friction of the office and remote experiences to enable people to perform at their highest level.

Information about employee experience needs to be provided to the workplace leader: both directly and through the workplace analysis. While it’s always good to allow people to share their frustrations with current workplace policies, companies can’t rely on people to be brave enough to send constructive email to resolve an organizational issue. Transparent employee experiences require IT teams to create a deeply integrated back-end technology stack that includes building access, HR systems, and reservation systems for meeting spaces, offices, and other office equipment. This integration stack enables IT and facilities teams to learn and adapt their office with a holistic view of the services that impact offices.

Image credit: AllaSerebrina /

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