When the pandemic began, most UK employees had to start working from home. But, since the world has gradually been returning to normal. In many organisations, a returning to the office movement has been taking place.  Whilst many have enjoyed the working from home life, businesses are recognising a need for the efficiencies, teamwork, communication and collaboration opportunities that often come with people working together in one location. Transitioning from remote working back to the office can be difficult for both employers and your employees. There are many factors to consider when managing the move back to the office.

Let’s take a look.

Communication and Expectations

As returning to the office could be a big upheaval, communication and setting expectations is really important. Written guidelines can be helpful in establishing clear boundaries. Creating an open dialogue is essential for a successful move back to the office. Ideally you should be asking for feedback from staff and ensuring they feel comfortable speaking to management and colleagues about the transition.  

Contractual Obligations

If any of your staff have moved away or, indeed, do not wish to return to working in the office for any reason, you can only enforce a return to the office if that location is specified as the usual place of work in their contract. However, if no location was specified, you actually cannot enforce a return to the office.

If an employee has agreed to returning to the office but their contract doesn’t specify that they must do so, it would be beneficial to make a contract change. Also, if you have made any agreements for hybrid or remote working – either verbally or in an email – it would benefit all parties to have this written into the contract. Let us know if you need any help.

Workplace Culture and Morale

Working from home over these last few years will likely have allowed a much greater level of flexibility for your employees, and so the transition when returning to the office may be stressful, disappointing or frustrating. Being helpful, flexible and reasonable during the transition is important. It will also help to improve workplace morale by emphasising that every employee is important to the company.

When staff return to the office, employers should work to rebuild a sense of community. Encouraging your people to spend time together and creating strong relationships through team-building activities can be a good incentive for coming back to the office. And not everything has to be a big or formal event like a full team-building day – even little things like beer and pizzas on a Thursday after work or teams going out together for lunch could be a really good way to get people feeling involved again, cultivating a sense of belonging.

Permanent Moves

Many people’s lives changed due to the pandemic and for some this might even have meant moving somewhere new. If someone has made a permanent move but is now expected to be in the office, the obligation is dependent on their contract. If an employee has moved, not realising that their contract stipulates them being office-based somewhere that is no longer practical, start the conversation as soon as possible to look for a resolution which will work for both parties – you want to avoid creating resentment by ‘forcing’ someone into an unmanageable commute, even if it’s their ‘fault’ for moving away! What can be done to reach a workable, practical solution? Whatever you agree, write it into their contract.

Some staff may even want to move abroad – or maybe they already have! Perhaps they went abroad but didn’t tell you properly that this was going to be a permanent relocation! This is much more difficult to manage than a move in the UK. Unless a company is already established in the other country, an employee cannot begin working somewhere permanently without incurring tax and compliance implications – for both them and you. Working abroad can also pose digital security risks – will your sensitive company or client data be safe?

Right to Request Flexible Working

All employees have the legal right to request flexible working. This means they can request changes to their hours they work, when they start or finish, the days they work and where they work. From 6 April 2024 employees are able to request flexible working from their very first day in a new job. Learn more about flexible working and how employees can make requests on the gov.uk website.

You must deal with any flexible working requests in a ‘reasonable manner’. This means:

  • assessing the advantages and disadvantages of the request
  • having a meeting with the employee to discuss their request
  • offering an appeal process should you reject the request

Make sure you keep records of the request and any subsequent discussions. 

Health and Safety and Mental Health Awareness

When an employee returns to the office, they need to be reminded of the fire safety and first aid rules and requirements. Depending on their working environment, people should also be reminded of any electrical safety and manual handling requirements. All workstations should be set up ergonomically and your managers should encourage employees to take regular breaks from their screens.

Returning to the office is going to be a big upheaval for some. It can affect people’s lives much more than simply working in a different location. If someone has been saving lots of time not needing to do a journey during rush hour, or a parent has got used to being able to do school pickups, coming back to the office could be a bit of a shock. It is important to be conscious of staff’s mental health and wellbeing during the transition period. As usual, regular check-ins are essential. A stressful commute, concerns about childcare, less time to spend with friends and family, all these could feel like a massively big deal to an employee returning to work after 3 or 4 years ‘away’, so it’s important that employers acknowledge this. Empathy and understanding will go a long way. As of course will exploring options that minimise or avoid as many of those stressors as possible. It may be that the business needs everyone back in the workplace but, for example, greater flexibility around working hours might be possible.

Professional Development and Training

Working remotely may have caused skill gaps, or employees may even have gained new skills. It is important to identify these and offer training to fill any knowledge deficits or to utilise any incredible new skills your team may have developed while working at home. Employers should also take time to ensure all staff are up to date on work processes or any software changes. Hopefully your managers will have continued meeting with all remote staff regularly to conduct reviews and discuss their professional development, so this should continue as part of the return to the office process.  


As always, open lines of communication are key. Talk to your staff, ensure your line managers are talking to their teams, and address challenges early on rather than letting things drag or people stew. Everything comes back to what is in your employees’ contracts, alongside the business needs, so take a moment to review these and gain that clarity on where you both stand in regards to coming back to the office.

If anyone has a souped-up DeLorean, maybe you could take a time trip ahead 30 years and tell us how the mass return to the office worked out?

At vivoHR we understand that managing your team as they make the transition back to office working can be stressful, that’s why we are here to help. Contact us on 01252 757359 or drop us an email at hello@vivohr.co.uk.

Free eBook!

Simply provide your details to receive your free ebook '7 Questions For Sure-fire Success As An Employer'. You will then receive important legal updates, HR tips and important news right into your inbox.

By the way, we can't stand spam so be assured that we will never share your information. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!