As all gyms know, September functions like a second January, with memberships rising as a result of people resolving to get into a routine as summer ends.

For managers and team leads, this “back to school” energy can be harnessed to encourage people back into the workplace.

In the last year employers have tried everything from ice cream to straight-out commands to tempt people into the office.

But to be successful in encouraging people back in, there are three principles that have to be followed.

Clear messaging

If you want people to go into the office, make it clear why. A company diktat without rhyme or reason is never going to win people over. However, demonstrating that, for example, design sessions work better when huddled round the whiteboard treats people like adults and gives them a reason to come in.

It also forces you to think about exactly why you want people back in the office. If it’s merely an assumption that people are more productive and efficient while in the office, be prepared to have that challenged - especially if it seems like you are suggesting people have been slacking off at home.

Encourage the formation of habits

So you have people onboard with the idea in principle, but in practice are they going to willingly schlep into the office?

The biggest problem facing employers wanting to get people back into the office is that work-from-home has become the default, making working in the office “the new remote”.

In order to get people back into the office, you have to make it a new habit - so that, after they hit the snooze button multiple times on a wet Wednesday morning, they don’t even think about whether or not they are going; the decision has already been made for them through the power of habit.

When it comes to forming habits as a group, it’s far more effective to get people to define and agree the preferred habit together so that everyone feels committed. For example, you might collectively decide that Thursday is the best day for you to be in the office and arrange meetings accordingly, meaning that everyone’s working together towards adopting the new habit.

Make it worthwhile

To kickstart that initial habit though, you have to incentivise people to come in. As real estate thinker Anthony Slumbers recently pointed out: “Home trumps average easily.” Drab office furnishings and a lack of workspace-related perks simply aren’t going to cut it anymore.

This doesn’t have to mean arranging for Michelin star food to be served by the troops of Cirque du Soleil. While perks are appreciated, for most people the main reason to come into the office remains human contact.

As a result, the very worst thing that can happen while the habit is shakily being adopted is for someone to come in and then spend their day in an empty office on calls to colleagues at home. This is why it’s so important to get teams to commit to coming in to work together. With Desana’s HQ booking tool, people are able to see which colleagues are booked to work in the office or are even able to make group bookings.

Having said all this, it’s worth considering whether forcing people back to the office is the most effective strategy. With the pandemic has come a re-emphasis on work-life balance and employees increasingly prize flexibility over other benefits. While there are good reasons for getting people to work in the same physical space, it’s worth ensuring that at the same time you don’t lose what people value the most: flexibility and choice.

If you think Desana could help your team, get in touch.