5 ways companies are helping employees return to the office

Ensuring the mental and physical wellbeing of staff is key for successful hybrid working

October 19, 2021

With more employees heading back to the office for at least part of the week, employers are facing the challenge of creating a welcoming, safe environment that offers people a compelling reason to come in.

While many employees miss the social buzz of the office, JLL’s Regenerative Workplace research found they’re also hesitant about returning to busy workspaces. 

At the same time, employers are considering how best to update workplace policies to help staff feel engaged and supported wherever they’re working from.

“The pandemic has been really challenging for employee engagement because on one hand, remote work has made it more difficult for staff to feel connected to the company, while increased workloads have contributed to increased levels of stress,” says Flore Pradère, Research Director, Global Workplace Dynamics at JLL.

“As staff come back to the office, companies need to recognise the importance of health and wellbeing for long-term performance.” 

Here are five ways companies are supporting their employees:

Ensuring workplace health and safety

With 55 percent of the workforce concerned about the risk of COVID-19 infection in the office, clear hygiene measures help reassure employees that workplaces are clean and safe, says Lee Daniels, Head of Workforce, EMEA and UK at JLL.

Visible frequent cleaning, one-way signage to help avoid clustering, high-quality air filtration systems and screens between desks can all help people feel more secure about sharing workspaces. To avoid crowding at rush hours, some companies are staggering start and end times or giving employees the option of flexible hours.

“Supporting employees’ health is about listening to employees and responding to their concerns so all workers feel valued and cared for,” says Daniels.


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Supporting employees’ mental health

Creating supportive work environments that help alleviate stress and burnout is more vital than ever, with a third of employees reporting increased pressure when working in the office.

“Building an inclusive environment where employees feel safe is key for today’s workforce,” says Pradère. “Employees now expect their workplace to be a sympathetic place where they can share their difficulties and concerns.”

As well as redesigning workspaces for different work styles and offering places for relaxation – such as outdoor spaces or the meditation rooms in Google offices, more employers are promoting wellbeing training to respond to mental health needs and providing easy-to-access support programs.

Software company Zendesk, for example, partnered with a provider of mental health resources enabling staff to access online therapy and coaching.

Helping establish healthy routines

While many employees appreciate the flexibility of remote work in achieving a work/life balance, fewer than four in ten feel there’s the same support for healthy routines in the office.

While one third of employees don’t have access to any health and wellbeing amenities, between 60 and 70 percent of those that do will use them on a weekly basis.

Some employers are introducing meeting-free Fridays to better manage weekly workloads while others are focusing their efforts on healthy food services, outdoors spaces and fitness spaces to allow employees to re-energize through the working day. Activity trackers that can nudge healthy behaviours and offer insights into wellbeing are also becoming more popular.

“Trusting employees to define their own work patterns and take care of their wellbeing during the working day benefits everyone – people are more engaged and energetic, and businesses gain from higher performance,” says Pradère.

“However, companies will also have to tread carefully when offering employees support so they don’t intrude on personal lives and responsibilities.”

Recognizing and rewarding employees’ efforts

Over a third of employees believe that their work the past 18 months has not been sufficiently recognized.

Acknowledging hard work not only improves job satisfaction and spurs innovation, it equally supports mental wellbeing. LinkedIn thanked its employees with a paid week off to tackle burnout during the COVID-19 crisis, while many companies run ongoing recognition programs offering rewards ranging from gift cards to awards and bonuses.

What’s key is that employers provide recognition that staff find meaningful. “An employee value proposition survey can help employers understand what employees want or need,” says Daniels. “It’s about finding the right thing that will really make a difference to their wellbeing, whether that’s free healthy snacks or time off to recharge.”

Reconnecting employees to the company vision

Remote work has led to many employees feeling isolated and disconnected. Only one third of employees say they’ve maintained high-quality interactions with colleagues out of the office – with knock-on effects for how they feel about their work.

Employers are boosting staff engagement by investing in workplace culture – from holding social events to creating collaborative, tech-enabled workspaces that support seamless connections with both in-office and remote colleagues.

“By helping their staff engage again, employers stand to gain from employees who feel more fulfilled and empowered and who understand how their work purpose is intrinsically linked to their organisation’s purpose,” says Daniels. “And this comes back in greater innovation, productivity and ultimately, business growth.” 

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