The Big Return

As a business owner is it acceptable to tell your team it's time to come back to the office? Should you mandate a return or can you create a magnet that will entice them back? Which approach makes better business sense? We discuss the issues.

It's time to come back team...

There have been thousands of words published about RTO – return to the office. Most, however, are written from the perspective of, or on behalf of large corporates, with large floorplates, large budgets and hundreds, if not thousands of employees.

But what about the (not so) humble SME? Those businesses with less than 50 employees that make up around 97% of all enterprises in New Zealand and over 90% worldwide.

It may be easy and within budget for a large business to reconfigure their offices, retrofit games rooms, offer all manner of perks, such as drinks bars, personal chefs (I kid you not), personal financial advice, laundry services, gyms or even a pet groomer.

Attract, Retain and Attend

But if you are the owner of an SME business with, say, 20 employees, how do you compete for, or retain the best talent around? And how, once you have them, do you ensure they actually attend the office more often than not?

The good news is, some of the advice aimed at big business can be adapted and used no matter what size company you are.

Magnet not Mandate


In terms of employee motivations, a recent piece of research from Total Workplace Group showed that flexibility and choice is key.

80% of employees want to be able to choose where they work and 97% when they work. But what’s more telling is if they are given the option to choose, 70% feel connection to the company culture versus only 36% where mandates are in place.

Importantly 75% of workers who were able to choose to be in the office felt positive wellbeing, which came with far higher productivity rates – some 29% higher. You must ask yourself, how would that sort of uptick in productivity impact on your business? Interestingly, just 33% of remote workers reported the same feelings of wellbeing – so they want to be there with you if given the choice.

The largest working population, Millennials, want to know ‘why’ they should be in the office. In a study by Cushman & Wakefield’s XSF, Millennials cite socialising, better collaboration and a delineation of home and work life as key reasons to be present in the workplace. They want to be engaged at work, need connections and top of their list is to be inspired within their work environment.

Create the Magnet.

Knowing all of this, the SME owner needs to look at their current workplace and consider if it’s delivering the inspiring, collaborative or task-focused space this cohort is looking for.

That word ‘flexibility’ comes into play again. If your workplace is made up of just desks and chairs there isn’t much opportunity for team members to escape: to find a quieter spot when they need to concentrate, or a place conducive to collaboration or creativity. If you have a very functional yet non-flexible space it is not likely to be attractive to workers now used to the variety of homeworking, café working or co-working spaces.

If, on the other hand, you have invested in a workplace that offers zoned working, no matter how limited, the research shows that your business will benefit. There has been a lot of research around collaboration. From Steve Jobs’ recognition of the importance of collaboration in the 1990s - which prompted him to build Pixar’s HQ around a central hub, through which everyone needed to pass several times a day, causing ad-hoc collabs as workers bumped into each other - to the purpose-designed collaboration-focused furniture available to you today, the value is undisputed.

Similarly, provision of quiet spaces using acoustic furniture or lighting, can enhance concentration – and once again boost productivity and creativity.

If your team is going to work in a hybrid pattern, then you may find you have more extra space on a daily basis, so it makes sense to use that space in a creative way, by taking out a desk or two and adding in pieces of furniture your employees choose to use. Choice is key, remember.

Three Rules

Three Rules to Guide Your SME Fitout Choices

1 - Consider tasks and personalities

Think about what your team needs to achieve, how individuals work, and the personalities required to get that work done. Is your business task focused, is it creative, does it require a lot of collaboration and thinking within the team or is it through intense concentration you have become successful? Really good commercial furniture is specifically designed to suit a need. Great furniture can be flexible too. Exceptional furniture does all this and delivers on innate human-centric needs.

2 - Think flexibility

As a smaller business, you may not have the space or budgets to be able to provide every person or every workstyle their own separate area. And anyway, you may be successful because you’re nimble and adaptable as a business. So, when it comes to furnishings and fitout, invest in pieces that offer flexibility. Whether that’s in terms of mobility (furniture on casters for example), modularity or scalability, it will pay off to ensure your fitout offers futureproofing and as flexible a workspace as you can engineer.

3 - Think holistically

Don’t think of furnishings and lighting in isolation. Consider the whole workspace and the needs of the whole team. Zone your space according to the tasks and personalities you need to satisfy. Think about the acoustics of your space: is it difficult to have a conversation without everyone else overhearing or does your background music seem either too loud or too soft? Think biophilically: the innate human connection to nature, which in design has been proven to improve productivity, creativity and reduce absenteeism. Planting is a good start, but investing in pieces that have been designed with biophilic principles in mind is going to provide dividends.

Excerpt pages from our Paper

For a chat about how your SME workplace could better benefit your business, call fellow SME owner, Blair McKolskey. 09 828 4274 - [email protected]