How can culture play a decisive role in the return to office?

As companies struggle to bring people back to the workplace, the latest paper in Poly’s research series on hybrid working suggests that the issue has less to do with technical infrastructure than cultural fit

The reasons for an effective return to office (RTO) are well rehearsed. Organisations are keen to get employees back to the office to promote face-to-face collaboration, which is widely understood to enhance key benefits such as learning, innovation and wellbeing. RTO is also an essential building block of any hybrid strategy – a key part of the mix.

Yet despite all this, organisations around the world are struggling to get employees back in the office.

Most companies have accepted that they need to magnetise their workforces back rather than mandate an office return. This approach has led to a bout of free coffee and food campaigns and social meet-ups in the office – but when the coffee offer dries up, what’s left to bring people back?

WORKTECH Academy has been working with multinational technology firm Poly on a research series around the challenges and opportunities of hybrid working. Our latest article in the series, entitled ‘A reset for return to office?’, draws insights from a curated roundtable of senior leaders in technology and design from large global organisations.

Reluctance to return

One of the big questions posed in the group discussion, held in London on 28 June 2022 with senior tech leaders from such large employers as JP Morgan Chase, Standard Chartered, Fidelity International and Bank of New York Mellon, was ‘what can be done to address a reluctance to return?’

While much of the focus is on implementing flexible and future-proof technology solutions in the workplace, there is a parallel narrative which is of equal importance: building the right culture. The discussion revealed that many of the challenges around employee expectations are as much cultural as they are technical. In understanding that technical infrastructure may not be the sole driver to entice employees back to the office, the research identified other forces at play.

The paper says that implementing a successful RTO strategy depends on three essential realisations: first, organisational culture needs to be properly curated in order to bring people back to meet their colleagues; second, departmental silos need to break down and IT, HR and facilities need to work together in a more holistic way; and third, the individual needs of the workforce need to be identified and met instead of applying a blanket approach to hybrid for all workers.

‘Organisational culture needs to be properly curated in order to bring people back…’

The conclusions of the roundtable were that there is not a compelling narrative to entice employees back to the office currently. If the goal is for the workplace to ‘earn the commute’ then organisations will need to think much more creatively, and holistically, to win their workforce round.

Read the full article here.

Poly is an American multinational corporation that develops video, voice and content collaboration and communication technology. Poly is a corporate member of WORKTECH Academy and is working with the Academy on a rolling research programme around the challenges and opportunities of hybrid work.
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