Five mistakes to avoid when implementing return to office policies

2 minute read
The shift towards return-to-office policies presents both a challenge and an opportunity to reshape the future of the workplace. Here are the five biggest mistakes we have learnt from HR leaders who have taken this step
Sian Harrington


Pop art style illustration of a woman working at home on her computer and a man at the door telling her she needs to get back to the office. A word cloud above her head says Why

In the wake of the pandemic the dynamics of work have fundamentally changed, with a marked increase in remote working and a significant shift in employee expectations. This change has not only impacted the way work is conducted but also where employees choose to live, with a growing number choosing to reside further away from their traditional office locations.


Research conducted by the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México and Stanford University reveals a striking trend: the share of workers living 50 miles or more from their workplace has increased more than fivefold since 2018. This shift underscores the importance of careful consideration and planning as organisations contemplate return-to-office (RTO) mandates. The implications for HR leaders are profound, as they must navigate the complexities of bringing teams back to the office while managing the expectations and needs of a geographically dispersed workforce.


Over the past six months I have undertaken a series of discussions with HR directors, shedding light on the challenges and lessons learned through the process of asking employees to come back into the office. My interviews highlight five common mistakes organisations are making when implementing RTO policies:


  • The first mistake many companies make is failing to clearly articulate the 'why' behind their RTO decisions. Without transparency and a compelling rationale, employee disengagement and resistance are likely outcomes.

  • Another critical error is adopting a 'one-size-fits-all' approach. In a world where employee circumstances vary widely, flexibility and accommodation are key to retaining talent. For HR leaders this means crafting policies that recognise individual needs and preferences, a task that is easier said than done. 

  • The preparation of leadership to manage team expectations is often overlooked, leaving managers ill-equipped to navigate the nuances of RTO policies and maintain a positive work environment.

  • Rethinking the role of the office is also essential. Rather than focusing solely on occupancy HR leaders must consider how the office can enhance collaboration, culture and employee wellbeing. 

  • Finally, the failure to evolve RTO policies in response to changing circumstances and feedback can render them ineffective and out of touch with the realities of the modern workplace.

The journey towards successful RTO implementation is fraught with challenges, but it also offers a tremendous opportunity for HR leaders. By avoiding these common pitfalls and adopting a data-driven, flexible approach, HR professionals can lead their organisations through this complex process. 

It’s a chance for HR to demonstrate its strategic value, guiding the organisation towards a balance of productivity, employee wellbeing and operational efficiency.

To delve deeper into these issues and learn how to navigate the complexities of RTO policies effectively I have developed a free, 5-day bitesize educational email course. This course offers a more in-depth exploration of each mistake identified in my discussions with HR directors, providing actionable insights and strategies to avoid them. 


By engaging with this course HR leaders can equip themselves with the knowledge and tools needed to lead their organisations successfully through the transition to RTO. Sign up for this free course here.


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