top of page

Why do I have to go back into the office?

Updated: Mar 29, 2021

Why is it so difficult to bring everyone back to the office? Why are some people reluctant to come back to the office whilst others are delighted to be back?

Recently a manager contacted me out of sheer frustration. They were trying to understand why one of their employees did not want to come back to the office to work. I have found this to be quite commonplace in many organisations at the moment.

Are your employees asking:

· Why do we have to come back to work in the office?

· I have proven I can work productively from home, we have the technology now to work from home, why do I have to go back to commuting again when I can use that time to work at home?

· Can I still do some of my work from home, will there be flexibility and how will it work?

If you can answer these questions, then you are ready to bring people back to the office.

If not, read on…

We are creatures of Habit

In 2019 - going into the office was a given, an unconscious habit of work. We did not question it, we commuted on crowded public transport or sat in traffic jams on freeways to get to work. We got up early, rushed to get everyone ready for school, went to work, sat in meetings, chatted about the latest reality TV show, caught up with people in a coffee shop, did some work at our desk and rushed home in peak hour traffic to cook dinner, go to bed, to get up and do it all again the next day. That was office work in 2019. In 2020, COVID-19 hit and that all stopped, we were forced to work from home. Initially, this was a difficult transition for many people, trying to work out where best to work at home with the littles ones also doing home schooling, and the delineation between work and home life became blurred. In fact, many of my clients told me the first few weeks was one of the most stressful and uncertain times in their lives.

But we adapted. In fact, working from home became convenient. We had more time with our family, we had more time for work as we got back the time we lost when commuting. We got back time we lost due to the interruptions in the office. We developed new work and home routines. We are creatures of habits and so we formed new unconscious habits of work and home life.

Survey feedback gathered by HR teams across different organisations showed no drop in productivity due to remote work in 2020. The surveys also showed an increase in employee engagement. Anecdotal feedback received from virtual workshops and from speaking to senior managers and HR leaders revealed that employee communication increased during COVID – we checked in with people more – ask about their wellbeing, had more structured conversations via MS Teams about work progress and more huddles giving updates on work and changes. Everyone worked together with a common purpose during the crisis of the pandemic. History has shown us this is what humans do when in a crisis – we come together.

But now the crisis is over – we can go back to work in an office – but for what purpose?

The purpose of work and human motivation to work.

The old management model of measuring productivity by attendance is no longer valid. Self-determination theory tells us that people desire autonomy. The ability to choose, to be able to make their own choices on when and how. When given this autonomy most people work hard to achieve their goals. In some ways, during the lock down we gave people autonomy – to choose when and how to work. And it worked – we maintained productivity and in some cases increased productivity.

We face the risk of demotivating people if we force people back to the office to work full time. We will lose all the goodwill and productivity we gained during COVID-19. Productivity and high-performance teams do not exist without human motivation.

Key fundamentals of human motivation at work:

· Basic needs of psychological safety and physical safety.

· A level of self-confidence and personal goals.

· Having a purpose for the work – a sense of adding value

· Believing one’s competency and capability to do the work.

· A sense of belonging and having positive supportive relationships.

· Having a level of autonomy to do the work.

Leaders need a work model that motivates and delivers productivity.

The 3/2 office work model – Post COVID-19

Organisations are redesigning their work model to ensure they keep their teams together – have a sense of belonging, feel safe together, and yet can allow for autonomy. One of the models that offers the ability to deliver productivity and flexibility is the 3-2 model of work design. This model allows for autonomy and ensures team members retain their sense of belonging and working together.

What is your answer when asked: “Why do I need to come into the office?”

It helps if leaders in organisation spell out why it is important and what type of work benefits from being together in the office. The purpose of office work becomes relevant in a 3-2 work model. Here is one example of making it clear for people why and how people need to come into the office:

‘The aim is to have three days in the office with your team or working with other key people to achieve the business goals and two days working remotely on your own individual work productivity’.

The following tasks work best when in the office:

· Team meetings that require teamwork – planning, problem solving, brain-storming, and innovation sessions.

· Meetings to resolve complex issues or personal issues or team relationship issues.

· Team training and team building.

· Meetings with key people and stakeholders outside the team – where relationships are important to achieve work outcomes.

· Client or supplier/partner meetings

· Project work – the forming of the team, project design sessions and milestone sessions

· Time efficiency in catching people – chats in the hallway, quick decisions needed, follow ups.

· Work social events and whole of organisation training/conference events.

Work that can be done remotely:

· Individual work - research, report writing, proposals, emails, design work, individual admin work, work scheduling and calendar planning, self-paced learning.

· Virtual Team meetings when the meetings are transactional in nature, i.e., Work in progress meetings (WIP’s), Monday huddles – updates on work plans for the week.

· Virtual meetings for regional, national, and global meetings

How to set up a 3-2 work model

The 3-2 work model is best achieved by engaging everyone in the team in planning the workdays and work routine. Not everyone has to have the same 3-2 workdays. It does help if there are days when all the team are in the office together to achieve that sense of belonging and being part of a team.

· Make a list of work activities that are effectively achieved in the office, i.e.: the team meetings that work best when face to face.

· Discuss the advantages of quick decisions, quick catch ups, hallways chats, informal social connections, and the benefits of finding solutions and problem solving when together.

· Agree on a set of working principles. Build trust and respect for each other’s work needs.

· Create a schedule/roster for the team. This improves clarity, reduces misunderstanding, and can be shared with other teams across the organisation.

· In the early days review the team roster weekly – check what is working well, and what needs to be improved.

Eventually the 3-2 work model will become the new work routine and once again we form an unconscious habit of work.

If you need support to implement a 3-2 model of work – contact Paul Saunders – Psychologist and Organisational Change Consultant.

169 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page