Culture   //   January 29, 2024

These fresh RTO tactics are helping bring people back to the office

It’s clear that ping pong tables in the office, pizza parties and the occasional happy hour aren’t enough anymore to make people feel excited about having to commute to the office. 

But what are the popular RTO tactics that might boost company culture in a different more engaging way? We spoke to several companies to hear what they’re doing to either boost in-office culture or to encourage people to come into the office more than just a couple times a week. 

Physical security technology startup Verkada is fully in-person, but their employees aren’t upset about it, in-part thanks to one huge initiative that the CFO, Kameron Rezai, put in place just under a year ago. It’s called 3-3-3 and the idea is pretty simple: grab a minimum of three colleagues after 3 p.m. and each can spend $30 on food and drink at a space that’s within walking distance of the office. 

One of the main reasons the company’s leadership put this program in place is because they felt the “return to office” shouldn’t be about getting people to stay inside for miscellaneous perks and the occasional free lunch. It’s also about getting back to supporting local businesses, which is exactly what this program has done so far. To date, the company estimates that it has infused $300,000 into downtown San Mateo, Calif., where Verkada is based. That doesn’t include the around $200,000 more spent in other downtown areas where they have offices, including Sydney, London and Tampa, Fla. 

“I knew that once we were in the office, we wanted to foster connectivity with employees and that it would mean we would need to invest to really make it happen,” said Rezai. 

“I knew that once we were in the office, we wanted to foster connectivity with employees and that it would mean we would need to invest to really make it happen.”
Kameron Rezai, CFO of Verkada.

Sure, they considered the classic route of company happy hours, but the problem with that is one person decides the plan for a large group of employees. “Can we put it in the hands of individuals?,” asked Rezai.

That’s how they came up with the 3-3-3 initiative. And so far it’s been a hit. The only requirement? Employees who take advantage of it need to post a photo to their company-wide 3-3-3 Slack channel, which helps encourage others to hop on and do the same. Rezai estimates that there are people sharing pictures multiple times a day across the company.

“The goal is to foster casual interactions over food and drink,” said Rezai, who also decided there would be no limit to how many times employees can take advantage of this perk. “It doesn’t need to be organized by the company, and there is freedom with that. It really works.”

Out of their 1,800 employees, almost all of them have participated at least once, and overall sentiment is up about employee experience in the office, according to Rezai, who added he hopes other companies consider replicating this model, including companies who are hybrid or remote. 

Stipends can make a bigger impact than you think

Stipends like Verkada’s have played a large role in the RTO conversation, with many employers hoping it will help encourage employees to come back to the office. 

Boston-based hybrid tech company Sincere, recently offered a $200 spot bonus called “Pimp My Ride” where team members were encouraged to use a stipend for anything that would make their commute to the office more enjoyable. That means anything from car detailing, an audio subscription, a useful accessory or even a cup of coffee.

“It was a hit,” said Ariel Faulkner-O’Brien, CMO of Sincere. It had a 94% usage rate. “The spot bonus generated a lot of discussion as people debated how to spend it, and then on Slack everyone posted pictures of what they purchased.”

“The spot bonus generated a lot of discussion as people debated how to spend it, and then on Slack everyone posted pictures of what they purchased.”
Ariel Faulkner-O'Brien, CMO of Sincere.

The company also offers “Lightning Compts” that run for 48-72 hours with a set theme. Last week, when the weather was frigid in Boston, the team received a $150 stipend to buy things to keep them warm. Purchases included firewood, slippers, blankets, rechargeable hand warmers and down jackets. 95% of the company used it.

Pets are returning to the office too

Another popular RTO tactic is letting people bring their pets into the office and 3D printing company Formlabs, has allowed employees to do just that. Chief People Officer Marcy Axelrad found that employee happiness is on the rise thanks to all the furry friends around the office. 

“While there are ample opportunities for people to bond over work, meals, projects and tasks, this gives folks another chance to meet and interact,” said Axelrad. “We feel that a pet-friendly office improves the mental and physical well-being of our teams, which is incredibly important to us and enables us to feel confident in our hybrid work model especially.”

Four day work weeks

Ever since the pandemic, how people work has changed. A part of that is navigating what the best new work schedule looks like. We’ve extensively written about the growth of four-day work weeks, and they’re now also being seen as a way to encourage people to come into the office. 

Todd Sherbacow, who founded SuiteMatters, a company that helps tenants create an attractive office atmosphere, has one client that now works from home on Monday and in the office Tuesday through Thursday – Friday they’re closed. 

“The four day workweek has created a culture where the staff feels heard and embraces their time in the office,” said Sherbacow. “The four day work week, with three days in the office, provides certainty for staff on how they will be working for years to come.”

He says it also allows for long term planning for the layout of the office and technology solutions to support the decisions. And above all, the staff want to work for an organization that is committed to work-life balance.

“They have shared goals with the organization,” said Sherbacow. “Employees have a stronger affinity to the organization and are more engaged.”