The time has come for companies to intentionally shift toward more in-person work. Leaders in today’s workplaces understand the benefits of more carrot, less stick. Some of your people are all in for the return to the office. Some aren’t. That’s okay! By offering return-to-work incentives, companies can ensure that all employees feel valued and supported as they navigate the shift back to in-person work.

Meaningful incentives beyond basic office perks get employees excited about opportunities to come together. In this article, we’ll discuss ways to engage employees and popular incentives you can offer to energize your people to embrace the transition back to the office environment.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

How thoughtful leaders engage their employees

Empathetic leaders understand the impact returning to the office has on employees’ lives. Promoting employee engagement is at the core of every organization’s successful return-to-office plans.

Provide a purpose

Communicate openly about why time spent in person is important, and connect this to your purpose as an organization. Setting the stage for why it’s essential to be in person means smart leaders must be honest, rational, and fact-based. Clear goals are motivating. And engaged employees are happier no matter where they are.

Support a flexible schedule and environment

New research demonstrates that flexible work positively impacts innovation, workplace culture, and employee well-being. Flexible benefits programs like Lifestyle Spending Accounts (LSAs) can be a powerful tool to support better work-life balance and empower employees with the freedom of choice.

Create a basis for rewards and accountability

Providing transparency about when, where, and how your people work helps to support equity and inclusion. A culture of gratitude is built on a foundation of belonging. Employees must feel valued and accepted before they are free to engage fully and authentically. It is not enough to simply acknowledge good work and build strong teams you must recognize your employees’ uniqueness and contributions.

Read more: 21 Creative Employee Recognition Ideas

Once leaders address their why, how they incentivize employees to return to the office is an important focus.

Listen to your people. Feeling heard fosters energy and positive engagement. When people are valued and recognized, they are far more willing to embrace a shift. Successful return-to-office incentives are rooted in understanding people’s need for flexibility, social connection, and individualized benefits.

Below are 10 popular incentives to consider to encourage employees to return to the office.

1. A flexible work model

Support flexible working hours and locations. Work is something that you do, not somewhere that you go. Flexibility is highly desired, second only to compensation in workplace satisfaction. Future Forum’s 2022 pulse survey found that 80% of global desk-based workers want location flexibility, and 94% want schedule flexibility.

Whereas hybrid work arrangements are defined and enforced by employers, flexible work models share that power with employees. Teams cooperatively identify opportunities to gather for collaboration, connection, and problem-solving. Location and regularity can be predictable or tailored to a team’s workflow.

2. Team days

Team days (or weeks, for distributed teams) in the office bring everyone together meaningfully. The time people spend in person is energizing, inspiring, and focused on connection.

Some teams spend a few days each week together to work in person – Tuesdays through Thursdays are the popular choice – while others may spend a week together in focused collaboration ahead of a big project or presentation. Working in person can strengthen relationships and foster a sense of camaraderie that is hard to achieve virtually.

Explore Employee Resource Group event ideas for ways to unify your teams and create an inclusive work environment.

3. Workspace options

Provide spaces for all kinds of work: collaborative, focused, educational, and social. Include comfortable spaces to encourage casual interactions with colleagues. Not everyone does their best work in a uniform environment: smart workplaces are designed with neurodivergence in mind.

Post-pandemic work has changed, and the office should too. Create spaces that work for all people.

It’s impossible to compete with the privacy, peace, and comfort of home. But in-person work offers something WFH cannot: time with co-workers. Rebuild social capital and support an office culture where employees feel safe to connect.

And keep in mind that in a psychologically safe workspace, people feel secure to be their authentic selves so they can do some of their best, most creative work.

4. Mentoring and training

Young employees and new hires missed out on in-person mentoring and on-the-job training during the Covid-19 pandemic. Engage recent hires by embracing these learning opportunities.

5. Focus time

Frequent interruptions and distractions hang like a dark cloud over the return to the office. Normalize scheduling blocks of focus time spent in get-it-done mode. Set and protect boundaries around focus time.

6. Meeting-free days

Schedule meeting-free days after in-person days to alleviate anxiety around work piling up. This allows your people to be fully present to maximize in-person work time.

7. Food and drink

Surprise! Your people are probably over free coffee and bagels. While you might get some gratitude for addressing the expense of takeout, offering food should be about the opportunity for a communal experience and connecting on a deeper level beyond transactional office exchanges.

8. Commuter benefits

The time and money saved by remote work are not insignificant. Account for the investment your people make whenever they travel to work. Make sure the effort is worth it and offset the expense.

9. Care benefits

Never has taking care of family members – children, elders, pets –  been more of a pain point than during the Covid-19 pandemic. Returning to in-person work means budgeting time and money for this care. Smart companies will subsidize these expenses and offer flexibility when plans change.

Read more: 6 Ways to Support Working Parents for an Inclusive Workplace

10. Wellness benefits

Fitness and mindfulness classes, gym memberships, equipment, and wearables – awareness of the importance of mental and physical health has risen. Support the total well-being of your people with benefits tailored to their unique needs.

Focus on what matters

Show your people you value them by allowing flexibility, cultivating connections, and offering individualized benefits. Done right, flexible work allows employees and companies to focus on what really matters.

Offering a Lifestyle Spending Account (LSA) from Espresa demonstrates that you understand your employees and what they want and need in their lives, wherever they are.

To learn how LSAs can enhance your workplace and cater to your employees’ well-being, reach out to our team at Espresa for a free demo.


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