How to get your team back into the office: Abandon paternalistic practices and adopt a bottom-up approach

How to get your team back into the office: Abandon paternalistic practices and adopt a bottom-up approach

We spoke to Marcus Thornley, CEO at Totem around their views on this ever pressing issue.    Goldman Sachs CEO, David Solomon, made headlin

We spoke to Marcus Thornley, CEO at Totem around their views on this ever pressing issue. 


Goldman Sachs CEO, David Solomon, made headlines last month for his refusal to accept remote working as the ‘new normal’. His linear view on return to the office is at odds with many other businesses that have embraced remote working. Companies such as Twitter and Shopify have declared their teams can work from home forever if they wish to, recognition that for many it’s a more productive model.


Ever since Boris Johnson announced the UK’s roadmap out of lockdown, business leaders have begun thinking about the future of the office. Many office-based organisations will be eager to revert to a pre-pandemic way of working, but this is unlikely to be the case.


The success of remote working over the past year means the role and perception of the office has irrevocably changed. Furthermore, the relationship between employees and employers has also evolved.  Employers now must listen to what their employees want in the transition out of lockdown and should use this information to sensitively inform their office reopening strategy – one thing that’s become abundantly clear (if it wasn’t before) is that engaged, committed people are a businesses’ greatest asset and should be prioritised.


The evolving function of the office

Working from home has caused certain issues with one being the lack of collaboration between teams. Our research found that workplace collaboration is most effective when a team is co-located in an office. A different study also found that people are working an extra two hours per day, which is triggering fears of burnout.


However, remote working certainly has its perks such as the five-minute commute and reports that people are supposedly happier working remotely. It’s also been reported people are more productive when working from home and have a better work-life balance as they’re able to fit in personal activities, such as a lunchtime run, within the working day.


Businesses need to find a middle ground between these two ways of working and look to repurpose the office to fill the ‘gaps’ that working from home highlights. BT plans to relaunch its office space as a place for “collaboration and knowledge sharing”. Repositioning the role of the office from being the stage for work, to a collaborative hub where some elements of working life are best accomplished, seems to be a direction many businesses are open to exploring.


Listen to your employees

Although transforming the office into a collaborative space may help some businesses entice their employees back, a one size fits all approach is bound to fail as different businesses have different needs. Business leaders and HR teams need to listen, ask the right questions and be prepared to test the water over the next year to find a new way of working, that flexes around  employees’ needs, wellbeing and preferences.


Investing in HR technology, such as Totem, will also help business leaders to listen to their team. Leaders can gain valuable insight into staff morale by using technology that observes people’s language and sentiment. By developing a more holistic understanding of how their teams genuinely feel, employers can then make informed decisions on their office reopening strategy.


If a business decides to not listen to employees and implement the ‘old ways’ of working, they risk employee burnout and losing top talent, which would have stifling consequences on its success. Businesses need to safeguard their futures by listening to how their teams want to work, post-lockdown.


It’s positive to see that businesses of all sizes are, in the main, listening – with many wanting to lean on technology that analyses employee sentiment and candour in real-time. Many large corporations have already confirmed they will be adopting a hybrid model of working post-pandemic, allowing teams greater flexibility over their environment.  HSBC announced it will allow staff to “work from home more often” and is closing 40 per cent of its office space as a result. Knight Frank, the estate agent firm, has confirmed it would ideally like its team working in the office full-time, but ultimately individuals will have a ‘choice’. Businesses understand their teams want flexibility around how and where they work. In listening to their employees, businesses will build loyal, happy, and productive teams.



Over the past year, employees have adapted to working from home and have proven their resilience to the pandemic. It seems only fair businesses do the same and abandon paternalistic management styles in favour of listening to their employees and driving change based of feedback ‘from the ground up’. Flexibility and understanding should be given to employees when putting together a return to the office strategy and deciding how a business will operate post-pandemic.