Leadership clinic: My staff are refusing to come into the office

Octopus Group co-founder and chief executive Simon Rogerson answers questions on starting up, scaling up and SME life.

by Simon Rogerson

Question: We’ve got a single office in the UK, just over 300 people. It has been open since April, but it’s not been mandatory to come in since before the pandemic. We’ve surveyed our employees several times – most want to come in two or three days a week, but about one in six is really reluctant to commit to going to the office. Some have even moved away from the city in the last year. A similarly sized group hates working from home and wants to go back to normal. I want to hold on to our collaborative, high-energy culture – we’re in professional services – but I don’t want to drive talented, motivated people off, and I’m concerned whatever we decide could have that effect. How can we keep both groups happy? 

Simon Rogerson says:

Everyone has a view about the WFH vs return to the office conundrum and, whatever you decide, some people aren’t going to like it. But here are a few things to think about. 

First, I wouldn’t set “rules” – 30-page staff manuals and HR policies about what time people have to come to work feel very adult-child and, in my view, aren’t the right way to build trust. This has to work both ways, however, and if some of your team have moved so far away that they can no longer commute in, I don’t think that’s acceptable. As a principle, though, I’d treat your employees like adults and trust them to do the right thing. For example, we stopped tracking holidays at Octopus about two years ago and it’s made zero difference to our productivity as a business. 

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