Getting people back to the office won't be easy.

After testing out remote work for the past couple of years, many people would like to keep their flexible hours and continue to work from home. A new survey from PwC published February 16, 2022, found that roughly six in 10 U.S. workers say their jobs can mainly be done from home. Among those working remotely, 61 percent say they don't go into the workplace by choice, the survey found, even though only 38 percent say their office is either closed or unavailable to them.

How you communicate expectations about getting back to the office is crucial. Doing so harshly could lead to mass resignations during a tight labor shortage. Here are four ways to encourage employees to come back:

1. Note the social and career benefits

Before the pandemic, the office was a place for work, and home was a place for socialization. But with remote work, the office now offers a crucial place where people can socialize, and leaders should take advantage of that, notes Adam Galinsky, professor of leadership and ethics management at Columbia Business School. 

"You want to have different tasks that are done in those two different locations, and are for people to recognize the benefits of those tasks," he says. For example, it's much harder to mentor people and give them the nuances and skills they need to develop career-wise when they're remote. So when people are in the office, senior management should prioritize time with junior employees and vice versa, and make those mentorship opportunities clear. 

Also consider offering perks that bring people together. If you offer free lunch, make sure it's in a place and at a time where people can have some sort of interaction. You can also schedule team-building events or happy hours, so more people are incentivized to come into the office on certain days if office hours are flexible.

2. Have empathy

The single best thing you can do as a leader is to try to communicate that you understand the mental space that people are in, notes Galinsky. Before you do anything else, recognize and articulate the tension that exists in a situation, and that you're open to having discussions with anyone who may have concerns about the transition back to work. Next, make it clear that you get why people want to stay at home--it's safer, it's easier, and it's cheaper--before acknowledging the benefits of coming in to work, such as connecting and collaborating with others in real time.

3. Broadcast safety and flexibility

As of late, politicians are working toward a post-Covid world by turning the attention of public policy toward prevention and containment, as opposed to lockdowns and mandates. Last week, more than 70 House Republicans signed a letter to the White House asking to end the designation of Covid-19 as a public health emergency because of the accessibility of vaccines and effective treatments. The state of California also announced publicly on February 18 a strategy to transition to an endemic.

Downgrading the pandemic's status would be good news for businesses looking to get employees back to the office, as it shows an obvious rationale that people can get together safely. Though employees should know that this is a transition and that things aren't going to go back to pre-pandemic schedules. Transitioning to an endemic also doesn't mean disregarding company policies, and leaders should emphasize that safety measures will remain, especially through periods of high transmission.

"You have to publicly acknowledge that we live in a new hybrid reality and everything won't change overnight," says Galinsky.

4. Show your work

If employees are concerned about the safety of the office, talk to them about any safety protocols you're keeping in place, such as masking, checking for vaccinations, or requiring Covid-19 tests. Keep in mind that most of these policies require some exceptions, such as masking exemptions for those with respiratory difficulties, or religious or medical exemptions for vaccination mandates. Also, make sure you communicate any new changes you've made to the physical space, such as moving desks for social distancing, limiting the number of people per elevator, or improving your building's air filtration and ventilation systems