After many starts and stops, and office opening dates delayed almost as soon as they’re announced, businesses are finally moving forward with their official return to in-office work.
Microsoft’s offices in the Washington state and California Bay areas opened at the end of February with a 30-day timeframe for employees to make adjustments, as did Facebook’s parent company Meta. Google and many other companies — in and out of the tech industry — were quick to follow.
In March 2022, GoodHire conducted a survey of 3,500 managers to learn their work preferences moving forward. Sixty percent agreed that a full-time return to the office would be required before the end of the year, if it isn’t already. Yet, according to a 2022 ADP Research Institute report, 64% of employees say they would look for a new job if required to come back to the office full time.
Needless to say, the return to the office hasn’t come without employee pushback. At Apple, an employee-formed group called Apple Together has petitioned the company’s return-to-office plans for more choice. Employees want to individually choose full-time office work, remote work or a hybrid schedule that works for them. (As of mid-May 2022, Apple recently announced a delay in enacting its mandated, hybrid office policy.)
The hybrid schedule, requiring several days of on-site work each week, is becoming a popular approach to meeting employees halfway. However, according to Microsoft’s 2022 “Work Trend Index Report,” 38% of hybrid employees say the “biggest challenge is knowing when and why to come into the office.” Surprisingly, only 28% of leaders have established hybrid norms for their teams.
As companies work toward defining their expectations for in-office work — whether full time or hybrid — it’s critical to consider what employees find meaningful about the office and in what areas they need support for a smooth transition. That’s where the development of new employee benefits and in-office perks comes in.
To design employee benefits and office perks for the post-pandemic world, it’s critical to understand where your employees need support and what will excite them about working from the office again. Chances are, these aren’t the same things as two years ago. Not sure where to start? Ask your employees!
To kick start your thinking consider these back to the office benefits that top companies have already implemented.
1. New Workspaces Designed for Engagement and Collaboration
Over the past two years, we’ve all learned how to engage and collaborate virtually — via Zoom, Slack, Google Hangouts and other communications tools. So, the return to the office needs to offer connection-driven opportunities that the remote world can’t.
Financial services firm TIAA has taken engagement to a new level by adding a market-style food hall, large open-seating areas, more outdoor spaces and a Topgolf facility to its Midtown Manhattan office. The Charlotte office also has a market-style food hall, indoor and outdoor collaboration spaces and sports facilities for disc golf and pickleball.
“When designing these spaces, flexibility and ease of collaboration were at the center of our work,” explains Jennifer Cline, head of workplace strategy and execution at TIAA. Cline says the employee response has been positive and the outdoor spaces are particularly popular.
TIAA invited employees back to the office in March. The company assigned worker personas based on roles: primarily remote, hybrid and primarily in-office, with most employees fitting the hybrid persona. TIAA defines hybrid workers as those who work between one and three days in office; most employees average two days on-site.
2. On-site and Off-site Childcare
The return to the office has put a new strain on parents, especially women, to find childcare. To support this need, many employers now offer benefits that help to pay the steep cost of childcare.
Some companies, like experience management company Qualtrics, are going a step further by providing on-site daycare options.
“To ensure we keep employees engaged, we have to be intentional in understanding their unique needs and expectations,” says Julia Anas, chief people officer at Qualtrics. “The past two years have required us to listen to our employees more frequently, and respond with empathy as we’ve transitioned from almost fully in office, to almost fully remote, to today’s hybrid model.”
At Qualtrics, there’s no requirement to work in the office, but many employees choose to come in one or two days a week for in-person meetings and collaboration. The company’s headquarters in Provo, Utah opened an on-site daycare in December 2020, and hybrid employees are now able to choose which days they bring their children to pair with their in-office workdays.
3. Commuter Benefits
Working from home eliminated daily commutes for many, saving both time on the road and dollars spent on gas. With rising fuel costs in 2022, providing a commuter stipend can remove this return-to-office expense.
Parking stipends and public transit passes are additional ways to ease the costs for in-office employees. And while scooters aren’t appropriate for all employees or office geographies, Google is testing out a subscription scooter plan, which provides employees a cost-efficient and sustainable mode of transportation — that is, if home is less than 15 miles away.
4. (Pandemic) Pet Stipends
During the pandemic, the ASPCA estimates that 23 million U.S. households adopted a pet. As many new pet owners are called back to the office, their furry companions are being left home alone all day for the first time. That separation, both for the fluffy family member and their owner, can be a difficult transition.
To ease concerns, companies are offering pet stipends that can be used for dog walkers and doggie daycare. One such company is DailyPay, which will be bringing its employees back to the Minneapolis and New York-based offices in June on a hybrid schedule that requires three in-office workdays.
The company, which offers an on-demand pay financial platform for employers, prioritized gathering information on how to support the transition to in-office work. When deciding on new benefits to offer, chief marketing and innovation officer Jeanniey Walden explains, “We needed to understand our employee base” and what types of assistance they needed — including support for pets.
5. Free Breakfast and Lunch
To draw employees back to the office, especially when hybrid schedules vary for each individual, free food can be a motivator. Shared meals can help to align in-office time for meetings and collaboration. This can take the form of catered breakfast, weekly lunch deliveries or food truck days.
Arrivia, a travel rewards and loyalty platform, added a fresh fruit day, a breakfast day and a healthy lunch day for its employees who work from the office. At the company’s headquarters, non-call center employees returned to in-office work four days per week in January.
“Sharing conversation over a meal, getting face time with senior leaders and catching up with one another in a casual setting raises the energy of our workforce and overall engagement,” says Jennifer Strauel, Arrivia’s chief people and diversity officer. With the free food, unlimited coffee and other travel benefits the company offers, Strauel says, “we can surprise and delight and connect with more employees as they return to work in person, and retention and referrals increase.”
6. A (More) Casual Dress Code
If you’re noticing more employees opting for jeans and flats, it’s not just your office. Employees are calling for a more casual office dress code across industries.
The past two years of remote work have shown that professionals can push projects over the finish line just as efficiently in sweatpants as they can in slacks. Instead of reverting to pre-pandemic wardrobe standards, many companies are adopting a relaxed approach — whether they choose to call it “power casual,” “business comfort,” “workleisure” or another buzz term.
Of course, there is a time and a place for the traditional business attire: client meetings, professional conferences, and formal business events. Milliken & Company, for example, takes a “dress for your day” approach, according to an article by CNBC. Employees can come to work in casual clothing unless they have scheduled engagements that require more professional attire.
7. Pop-up Events
To celebrate the return to the office in April, Google hosted a performance by Lizzo for its employees. And while it’s not feasible for all companies to coordinate a concert with a big-name performer, incorporating on-site events can excite employees about coming back to the office, especially when these events appear regularly on employees’ calendars.
Consider weekly fitness classes or food trucks. Especially if your office is returning to a voluntary hybrid schedule, regularly scheduled events can encourage employees to come in on the same days, which will increase engagement and collaboration.