“The Tesla and SpaceX CEO sent an email to employees at both companies on Tuesday saying everyone must spend 40 hours per week in the office. ‘If you don’t show up, we will assume you have resigned. The more senior you are, the more visible must be your presence’” (Washington Post, June 2022).
Executives in Japan’s healthcare industry say that there’s an executive-employee disconnect when it comes to returning to the office. Executive excitement about returning to the office may suggest old-school thinking about employment—the diligent salary man doing his bit for company and country. However, this way of thinking has all but gone for those who work for multinational companies.
In Tokyo, employees at Sanofi are being encouraged to return to work. However, there’s a catch. Sanofi has reduced its workspace, and there simply is not enough room for everyone to be at the office at the same time. An executive shared with me that the meeting rooms are now so small that only two people can fit in one of the rooms at any one time, so if multiple Tokyo employees need to be in a call, it’s simply not possible. “Why don’t you just do the meeting at your cubicle?” I inquired. He replied that with so many contractors and non-Sanofi employees, the environment is not confidential. It is best to stay home and work, he concluded.
Another foreign Pharma company (Bristol Myers Squibb), based in Shinjuku, is about to move to swish offices in central Tokyo. I was told that it was imperative that the new office be “nicer” than the recently acquired Celgene. The Tokyo Celgene offices were impressive, so the bar has been set high.
Speaking to one Australian client during the week, the HR director said when asked about coming back to the office, “We have developed a culture where the office is for collaborative teamwork. It is difficult long-term to be a team and have a collaborative mindset when you’re not interacting face to face with your team members.”
During the pandemic, many employees have worked at home and maybe only spoken to co-workers or managers a few times a week.
Here are some suggestions to help get employees back to the office:
1. Encourage a sense of community.
Remote working comes with many pluses, for sure. However, many people have reported feeling lonely when working from home. Building a sense of community and a shared purpose can be an instinct motivator.
2. Make sure employees feel safe.
Safety is essential to ensure that people are comfortable returning to the workplace, but this doesn’t just mean having Covid-19 measures in place to protect vulnerable workers. It’s important to remember that people’s circumstances may have changed as a result of the pandemic and that this might make a return to the office more difficult for them.
3. Communicate clearly.
For employees to feel happy about heading back to the office, they have to know what to expect. Therefore, it’s key for employers to communicate any changes and expectations before people return. An open, supportive environment will allow staff to speak up if they have any concerns or worries, which will help build a more trusting, healthier environment.
4. Be flexible.
Perhaps most importantly, employers need to respect people’s desire to work from home. If employees can do their work remotely—and have done so successfully during the pandemic—it may be better to agree on a hybrid working schedule rather than forcing employees to return to the office full time.