HR Strategy

Block out the RTO noise: How HR can lean into what works for their employees

Talent experts advise how HR can be better leaders for their employees, no matter when or how they want to work.
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Hannah Minn

· 4 min read

Why rush to find the return-to-office approach that works best for your company? You’re not Cinderella racing to get home by midnight before your office turns into a pumpkin. It takes time to flesh out a RTO strategy.

It may seem like RTO is the way to go, with large employers including Zoom, Meta, and Amazon all recently calling workers back to the office. As of June, 59% of full-time US employees were fully onsite, while 29% were hybrid and 12% were fully remote, according to data from WFH Research.

But HR leaders need to figure out the best plan for their employees. Otherwise, they risk being among the 80% of executives who regret their RTO strategies.

Let your employees lead. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to the future of work, said Lívia de Bastos Martini, chief people officer at Gympass. Whether hybrid, remote, or fully in-person, she said companies should pay less attention to what competitors are doing and more attention to what their employees need.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, Martini said Gympass decided to offer hybrid and remote options, a move that has helped create a culture where employees lead the charge in shaping their own schedule. That means they have autonomy in choosing when and how they complete their work and attend to their needs as people.

“[We have] a very strong corporate culture that is essentially based on trust, empowerment, accountability, and flexibility, so we’re building this into all of [our] policies, the way that we work, etcetera,” Martini told HR Brew. “This has to be something that the employees have a voice in…and we’re making that [a] cohesive strategy by saying people can choose what they do.”

She said the majority of employees (80% to 85%, Martini estimated) work flexibly and can choose to go into the office however many times a week they want. The rest are fully remote.

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“All of the combinations [of RTO] may work…It’s a matter of having your strategy be cohesive around: Who you want to hire? How do you want them to work? What’s your strategy? What’s your key business needs?” Martini said.

Give employees a choice. Leaders aren’t gymnasts, but they can strive for flexibility.

J.M. Smucker, for example, recently hatched a plan to bring its corporate workers to the office for 22 “core” weeks a year, or roughly six days a month, the Wall Street Journal reported. Workers can live anywhere in the US, but they have to pay for their own travel and accommodations during these weeks.

And Airbnb takes a “live and work from anywhere” approach, Fast Company reported.

Flexibility is essential for retaining workers, and the key to making flexibility work is listening, Robert Boersma, head of sales strategy for North America at Talent.com, told HR Brew. “You need to listen to your employees and understand what their definition of flexibility is,” he said.

“For white-collar employees, is it having a fully remote or hybrid schedule? Is that working different hours or being selective about what time they start or end their day? [Is it] taking longer breaks during the day if they have childcare responsibilities? Is it a four-day workweek? Is it half-day Fridays?” Boersma said.

Blue-collar workers may want shift selection, like having a longer streak of days on and a longer streak of days off, he said. “Is it [choosing] the location of the site that they’re going to work, like for construction workers? On days off, if you’re short-staffed, don’t ask them to come in.”

It comes down to choices. Martini said companies should let employees “have accountability for their job, for their scope, for their deliverables, so they can choose if they want to come to the office or not.”

If only RTO was as simple as putting on a glass slipper.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.