Make Your Return-to-Office Decision Work for You

One of the hottest topics in workplaces today is how to announce changes in remote work policies and set clear expectations on returning to the office. The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way many employees live and work, forcing employers to implement hybrid and even fully remote work policies.

As we adjust to a world where COVID-19 is no longer a public health emergency, many organizations are now rethinking how and where their employees will be the most productive and connected—and the most fulfilled. How you handle any shift in remote work arrangements can have a significant impact on how your employees see you.

Changing your remote work policy can be a complex decision with wide-ranging ramifications for your workforce. There isn’t a clear-cut answer on which model will work best for your company, but there is consensus that your employees must feel that their priorities and needs have been a key consideration, making thoughtful and clear communications a non-negotiable step in your return-to-office plan.

Wherever you are in this new landscape, we’re here to help and have outlined key recommendations to consider when developing and communicating your decision to return to the office.

Pressure Test Your Return-to-Office Plan

If your organization decides a return-to-office plan is right for your workforce after allowing remote work, you should be prepared to receive a certain level of pushback from employees. This will likely be a significant lifestyle change that will affect employees in varying ways, such as needing to make childcare arrangements, reconsidering the work location of a partner, and accounting for commuting expenses. It may also tap into the anxiety many employees feel about the future of work or even lingering health and safety concerns spurred by the pandemic.

So, we recommend that you pressure test the plan first. Make sure you have input from frontline employees and that leaders at all levels can answer basic questions about your return-to-office philosophy, like the ones below. If they can’t, then you have some more work to do. Make sure the answers are front-and-center in information you share about returning to the office.

  • Why are you requiring me to return to the office now?
  • When is this happening and what are the details?
  • How will this change benefit me?
  • How will it benefit the organization?
  • What is the long-term vision for how we will work together?

In order to effectively answer these questions in a clear and easy-to-understand way, we recommend developing a return-to-office policy as part of your return-to-office plan. A plan is a course of action for the future, but a policy is a set of rules and regulations to guide the plan. Having a clearly defined policy that is distributed via a strategic communications plan will be much more impactful (and enforceable) than, for example, sending out a mass email that leaves employees with more questions than answers. It will also make your employees understand that the organization is taking the decision seriously and help reinforce that employees play an essential role in your company.

The Do’s and Don’ts of a Return-to-Office Policy

Now that you understand why a return-to-office policy is instrumental to an effective return-to-office plan, consider these do’s and don’ts when developing your policy and communicating your decision to employees. The goal of these recommendations is to minimize anxiety and set clear expectations for employees as they prepare to return to the office.


  • Develop a comprehensive policy that clearly outlines what is expected of employees.
  • Include a detailed timeline of when the changes will be implemented.
  • Explain the “why” behind your decision so employees understand why this decision is being made and how it will benefit them.
  • Set expectations regarding this policy and your organization’s philosophy on in-office vs. remote work in recruiting and onboarding processes.


  • Create different policies across offices that could cause confusion or resentment among employees in different locations.
  • Discuss information or ideas not included in your policy that could make employees think expectations could change again in a few months.
  • Say “more information will be coming soon” as this may add to employee anxiety or confusion.

The future of work may seem uncertain, but employers still have the power to make decisions they feel will benefit their employees and to implement those decisions with empathy and transparency. When it comes to returning to the office, it’s all about communicating your decision in a way that will resonate with employees and quell any fears or anxieties that inevitably come with change.

At IRI, we’ve helped clients navigate this workspace change. We believe every business is different, and each requires its own holistic and customized approach to communications. Whether you need an internal communications assessment, guidance in developing your internal communications strategy or social media strategy, digital media intelligence, crisis communications services, media relations, or media training, we have expert communications consultants who can quickly provide a specialized solution. Contact us using the chat on the right to discuss the next steps, or give us a call at (313) 965-0350.

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