James Paterek Examines Creative Return-to-Office Strategies

Published October 24, 2023

Over the past three years, most American companies pivoted to remote work to stay afloat. But as federal restrictions have eased, many businesses are asking employees to return to the office. 

James Paterek is well-versed in the shifting trends of remote and in-person work. As Chief Strategy Officer of a healthcare staffing & workforce solutions firm, Millbrook Support Services, Inc. and a leading pioneer of the human capital sector, he has extensive experience managing staff and overseeing business operations. 


As major corporations mandate a return to in-person work, companies are using creative levers to encourage a successful return to the office.  Jim Paterek cautions his fellow business leaders to take a slow approach to this initiative.  Many employees have grown to enjoy working from home, and do not want to return, even a couple of days a week to the office.  Change comes two ways – through evolution and revolution and addressing the return to office matter evolve and through osmosis.  Company’s management must respect their fellow workers’ positions and listen to their needs and opinions on the matter. 


The Decline of Full-Remote Work

Many believed remote work would remain even as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were lifted. After all, many American workers had become accustomed to working from home, and it seemed difficult to imagine a return to pre-pandemic office life.


But over the past year, remote work has been on the decline. Fewer job postings allow for remote work, and major corporations like Apple, Amazon, and Google are beginning to mandate part-time or hybrid in-office work for employees. 


Smaller businesses are likely to follow in the footsteps of these industry leaders, who have put out letters explaining their return-to-office strategies.


The Importance of Being in Office

If big companies could function remotely during the pandemic, why shift back to in-person work? There are quite a few reasons why being in office is beneficial.


The past several years have increased the experience of digital burnout (the often-referenced “Zoom fatigue”). An office environment allows for face-to-face connection and collaboration at a slower, deliberate pace, something that’s often missing from digital communications.


Many businesses also want the opportunity to build company culture, particularly through on-site events and mentorship opportunities. Moments as small as a quick coffee break or as formal as off-site leadership training are valuable in reinforcing company valuables while allowing employees to grow in their careers.   


Another very important factor is training and coaching.  Training new hires or talent is much easier, expeditious and enjoyable in person.  Trying to train and groom an employee new to your business is extremely challenging remotely but in person can be 10-fold faster and less stressful for all parties. Sitting near one another not only gets the employee up to speed quicker but builds comradery and sometimes lifelong friendships.  


How Employees Feel

James Paterek notes that it’s clear that most employers are eager for offices to reopen — but how do employees feel? Interestingly, many Americans are looking for hybrid work (at home or in-office) however many employees are eager to return full time to the office for a host of reasons. 


After several years of isolation, employees are craving the community and personal interactions of an office environment. Plus, working from home has presented many employees with challenges to work-life balance. Employees can be more productive and focused by physically separating their work life from their personal life.


An Emphasis on Safety

Although employees are open to returning to in-person work whether full-time or hybrid, there are still crucial considerations businesses must make when creating a return-to-office or hybrid plan. One of the main concerns for many American workers is safety.


COVID-19 variants and routine illnesses like the flu remain on people’s minds, and employers need to incorporate new protocols that address health concerns. 


Clear protocols must be established to communicate when any transmittable diseases occur in an office setting. Offices should stay current on local and federal safety guidelines on COVID-19. 


Finally, corporations should provide flexibility towards immunocompromised employees or employees with young children.


Incorporating New Technology

Another creative lever businesses are using to encourage employees to return to the office is new technology. Outdated forms of technology can be a dealbreaker for new hires. Many expect today’s companies to implement the best hardware and software to make tasks efficient.  


For instance, modern software offered by Bing, Yahoo, and Google allows for easy conference room booking or even desk booking (the ability to reserve a desk space in advance). Scheduling tools simplify hybrid work schedules, allowing teams to coordinate in-person meetups.


Similarly, employees are likely to return to an office if the conditions are better than their “home office.” Fast WiFi, powerful computers formatted with the right tools, and even large pieces of technology like printers and scanners are draws for productive employees.


Don’t Forget About In-Office Perks

Finally, as James Paterek explains, one of the many reasons employees are eager to return to the office, full or part time, is for a sociable workspace with perks that home doesn’t offer. You don’t have to provide superstar concerts like the big tech companies do — small, thoughtful gestures will go a long way in making your employees feel appreciated after time away.


A well-stocked pantry and fridge, access to natural light, and comfortable common areas for socialization are all perks that modern workers have come to expect from today’s companies. Many go above and beyond by offering access to health and wellness benefits like gyms, spas, or therapy.


Don’t forget to invest in your company culture, either! The occasional off-site dinner or party allows employees from different areas to mingle and improves cross-team communication. After so many months behind a screen, employees will be grateful for the chance to meet one another face to face.  


At the end of the day, companies must listen to the needs of their employees while addressing their own requirements.  Paterek insists that an open minded approach is needed and sometimes a solution for one business is not for another and the same holds true for employees.  If one positive thing came out of Covid-19, it is the insight that people can work effectively remotely especially with the advancement in technologies such as Microsoft 365, Teams, Zoom, and Google Workspace. 


It’s all about balance! It is not a one size fits all approach to this very sensitive issue.  All parties must be mindful of each other’s needs. 


James Paterek was the founder & former Chairman of Comforce Corporation, a publicly traded human capital business. Currently, the Chief Strategy Officer of Millbrook Support Services, Inc. Millbrook supplies Physicians, Nurses, Advanced Practice Providers, and Allied Healthcare staffing services to government agencies and commercial clients nationwide.

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