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How to Make Coming Back to the Office More Attractive to Employees

Lauren Hargrave · June 10, 2024 · 10 min read

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The “nature of work” has been written about ad nauseam since the pandemic. And amid the blanket statements characterizing employee behavior and the grand titles like “the Great Resignation” and “Quiet Quitting,” it can be hard to parse how global labor market trends are supposed to guide company leaders’ decisions on a practical level. 

But one thing is clear: within the greater cultural forces are individual employees just trying to make their lives work. They’re not worried about whether or not their coworker is quietly quitting. They’re worried about who’s going to be at home when their kid gets off the school bus or how they are going to fit in their doctors appointments with their work schedule. If they have to be in the office, what does that mean for the rest of their lives, especially if they no longer have the flexibility of remote work?

Like it or not, this is now an employer problem too. If employers want their employees back in the office full or part time, and they also want their employees to be engaged and productive, employers need to address their employees’ individual needs and concerns outside of work. In this post, we’ll walk you through how employee benefits can support both employers and their team as they return to the office.

The perks and challenges to working remotely

The employee surveys are pretty unanimous– most employees like working from home. In fact, when they have the opportunity for flexible work schedules and locations, 87% of employees will take it. Half of the respondents in a recent survey even said they’d be willing to take a 10-15% pay cut in order to be able to work from anywhere.

That’s because working remotely has some distinct advantages. Employees that don’t have to commute to the office save money on gas, car expenses, tolls, mass transit fares, and other commuting expenses. They also save the time it takes to get to and from the office, which is time they get back with their loved ones, time to receive deliveries and do chores, and time to relax or engage in hobbies.

But everything has tradeoffs. If you’re working in a collaborative type of role, then brainstorming, problem solving and creating with your colleagues can be more challenging at home than it is in person. It can also be lonely working from home and be harder to capitalize on in-person interactions with company leadership and mentors. For companies, remote work can present challenges for managers to gauge how much employees are working. Many employers also believe remote work can result in lower worker productivity and it can make it difficult to maintain a connected and cohesive company culture. 

If you’re an employer that wants to bring workers back into the office, even part time, and you want to maintain a positive company culture, you’ll want to address the perks of remote working that employees will be asked to give, and lean into the benefits that can come from in-person work. 

How do employees feel about coming back into the office?

Most employees like the ability to work remotely at least part of the time. In addition, 80% of remote-capable employees expect their companies’ return-to-office (RTO) mandate to be a hybrid model, or they expect to remain fully remote. Most of the remote-capable workers that engage in at least some remote work feel trusted by their managers and employees and employees that feel trusted are more likely to report being more productive and 30% say they put in for extra work. 

So we know that employees like flexibility and remote work. But how do they feel about RTO mandates? Well, they want something in return for the disruption that commuting into the office causes in their lives. They want:

  • Their employer to help pay for their commute and meals at the office.

  • They want help with childcare.

  • Their performance to be measured on outcomes instead of attendance.

  • They want more meaningful interactions with upper management and mentorship opportunities.

How do companies feel about employees coming back to the office?

Much like the scramble that occurred in March of 2020, when employers had to figure out remote work on the fly, the process of bringing employees back into the office hasn’t been smooth. According to one recent survey, 80% of employers say they got their first RTO efforts and communications wrong and another survey found 68% of those employer respondents don’t have a plan in place for how hybrid work will work. 

Despite these figures, 90% of offices are expected to have an RTO mandate in place by the end of 2024. If your company is one of the many that wants workers back in the office, here are three easy ways you can address employees’ wants and lean into the benefits of in-person work, thus making coming back to the office more attractive. 

Three easy ways to make coming back to the office more attractive to employees

Enticing workers to come back into the office requires addressing the issues that will arise from this disruption, as well as providing additional benefits to being there. That’s why we’ve broken our suggested RTO strategy down into these three parts: making their lives easier, focusing on the fun, and increasing the benefit to actually being in the office.

1) Make employees’ lives easier.

Adjusting their routine and family system to include a commute and work away from the home can cause a major disruption in employees’ lives. It’s not just that they will have to wake up earlier, they will very likely incur additional costs and be required to navigate additional logistics in order to make going into the office happen. Employers can minimize the negative effects of this commute by offering the following benefits:

  • A commuter benefit. This type of benefit can be offered in the form of a pretax account into which employees deposit money to reimburse for commuting expenses tax-free. Eligible commuting expenses include parking close to the office or a mass transit center, and mass transit fares like bus, train, ferry, water taxi and other mass transit vehicles. Another way to offer a commuter benefit is to offer a stipend to employees to pay for gas, personal car expenses, bike maintenance, and other commuting expenses that are not eligible for the pre tax benefit. Any expenses for which employees reimburse through the employer-funded account are subject to income taxes.

  • Dependent care Flexible Spending Account (FSA). Dependent Care FSAs provide a way for employees to save for approved child care expenses tax-free. Given the fact that the average American pays 25% more for child care per month than the average rents in every U.S. state, saving up to 37% on those expenses (depending on their tax bracket), could result in real money going back into employees’ budgets. It also lowers the stress of going back into the office for employees that are the primary caregivers in their families. Dependent care FSAs can be used to pay for any child or adult day care (for dependent adults) that allows the employee to work.

  • Lifestyle Spending Accounts (LSAs). LSAs are a post-tax benefit through which employers can offer employees a stipend to pay for a wide range of expenses. Employers can offer multiple LSAs, each with a different focus. To craft an LSA that helps make employees' lives easier, an employer could offer to pay for gym memberships, pet care, workday meals, or another service that might help ease employees’ burden when going back into the office.

2) Focus on the fun

If you want your employees to work hard, be good teammates, and come back to the office without resentment, reward the behavior you want to see. Positive reinforcement has been shown to work faster and more effectively than punishment or punitive consequences, and can lead to a happier, more connected company culture. Here are a couple ways you can use benefits to keep insert a little fun into coming back to the office.

  • Entertainment LSA. One of the ways you can construct an LSA is to reimburse employees for entertainment-type expenses. These can include live entertainment like concerts, plays and comedy shows, movies, or other forms of entertainment your employees enjoy, such as travel, museum tickets, or amusement parks. Employers can use these stipends as rewards for employees producing good work, going above and beyond for their team or a customer, or complying with the company’s RTO policy.

  • Hobby LSA. LSAs can also be constructed to reimburse for expenses related to employees’ personal hobbies. These can include race entry fees, sports league costs, mountain passes for skiing and snowboarding, yoga and meditation retreats, and more. By supporting employees’ interests and hobbies outside of work, an employer can show they see their employees as whole people, not just workers.

3) Maximize onsite professional development opportunities.

Positive reinforcement can go beyond rewarding good behavior. If there are tangible benefits to employees to being in the office, they will be highly incentivized to make that commute. Structured, onsite professional development opportunities can provide those tangible benefits.

  • Internal Mentorship Programs. Whether your company is large or small, there is likely a reason new talent signs on to work for it. And that reason likely has to do with either company leadership, a talented, well-known member of the team, or a compelling product. Giving employees in-person access to a desired mentor can be a good way to provide them with a tangible benefit to coming into the office. 

  • Training and skill development opportunities. The problem with a lot of the professional development opportunities is that they tend to happen offsite, or in the employees’ personal time (e.g. ongoing education courses). By providing employees with these training and skill development opportunities onsite (and during normal work hours), employers can provide another incentive for employees to commute.

  •  Opportunities to spend casual, face-time with management. Networking isn’t just something that people do with others outside their company. Internal networking is just as important for employees’ career advancement. You can provide natural internal networking opportunities through onsite lunches, coffee breaks, and other opportunities for employees to interact casually with the management team. Getting to know their direct-reports on a personal level can also help managers be more effective.

It can be a hard sell to get employees to want to change their current habits and routines. But by meeting them where they’re at and showing employees that the company understands and empathizes with the disruption that returning to the office will cause in their lives, companies can go a long way toward building a connected and productive culture. 

And if you’re interested in offering flexible benefits to support in-office, remote, and hybrid employees, including commuter benefits and lifestyle spending accounts that can cover return to office or remote work expenses, entertainment, wellness, professional development, and even pet care, reach out to Lively today. 

Lauren Hargrave

Lauren Hargrave

Lauren Hargrave is a writer from San Francisco who focuses on technology, finance and wellness. She follows comedians like most people follow bands and believes an outdoor sweat session can cure almost any bad mood. She’s also been writing her first novel for so long, her mom doesn’t ask about it anymore.

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Disclaimer: the content presented in this article are for informational purposes only, and is not, and must not be considered tax, investment, legal, accounting or financial planning advice, nor a recommendation as to a specific course of action. Investors should consult all available information, including fund prospectuses, and consult with appropriate tax, investment, accounting, legal, and accounting professionals, as appropriate, before making any investment or utilizing any financial planning strategy.



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