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Max Shepherd-Cross


September 5, 2023

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min read

Return to work notice: What you need to know as an employee


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If you've been working remotely or if you were on an extended leave, your employer might send you a return to office notice, also known as a return to work notice, to ask you to resume in-person work at your workplace.

So, how should you answer it and what should your next steps be?

In this article, we'll cover all the details of the return to work notice, guide you through its various components, debunk myths around it, and outline your responsibilities as an employee. Employment law will vary based on your location, so make sure to check the specifics.

Understanding the basics of return to work notices

In this section, we'll outline the basics of this type of work letter to help you make sure you know exactly what it is and what to do next.

A definition of a return to work notice / return to office notice

Before we discuss the details, let's see exactly what a return to work/return to office notice is. In short:

  • A return to work notice is a work letter or communication issued by your employer to you, informing you that you need to resume your job duties after a period of absence.
  • A return to office (RTO) notice is a notice to inform you and other employees that you're required to return to the physical office to resume in-person work. That usually follows a period of remote work or an office closure.

Putting everything in writing (in the form of a clear and comprehensive work letter and work plan) is essential for both employees and employers because it ensures a smooth transition back into the regular work routine.

So, think of it as the "Welcome back" mat of the corporate world, or a guide providing you with all the necessary information to make your return seamless.

Six people working in an office
After a period of working remotely, you might be asked to return to your physical workplace via a return to office notice

The details: When, where, how

When you receive a return to work or a return to office work letter, it's important to pay attention to the details. This notice is a formal communication from your employer, officially informing you of the date and time you're expected to resume your duties or get back to the office space. Consider it the "You're Needed" memo that gracefully interrupts your time off.

This type of work letter outlines the specific details related to your return, such as:

  • The date of your effective return
  • The location
  • Work schedule and work arrangements (including a hybrid work schedule or flexible work arrangements)
  • Any specific tasks or projects that need your attention

Resuming office attendance after a period of absence can be both exciting and overwhelming. You may have liked working remotely (or enjoyed your time off), but now it's time to get back into the swing of things.

Your notice serves as a bridge between your time away from work (or your days of remote working) and your reintegration into the work environment. It acts as a roadmap, guiding you through the process of transitioning back into office work. This notice not only provides you with the necessary logistical information but also sets the tone for your return.

What to do when you receive a return to work notice

Upon receiving a return to work notice, take the time to read it thoroughly and note any instructions or requirements outlined in it. This will help you prepare mentally and emotionally for your return, ensuring a smooth and stress-free transition (in which your mental health doesn't take a hit).

It might outline a hybrid schedule, flexible working opportunities, or a detailed return to office strategy, including, potentially, a phased approach to coming back to your workplace. Note any of those and see whether they apply to your situation.

Next, acknowledge receipt of the work letter and discuss with your employer the next steps or any potential challenges or unforeseen circumstances you might be dealing with.

The legal aspects of a return to work notice

Let's take a quick detour to talk about the legal side of things. Return to work notices are a type of formal work letter that help ensure:

  • Organizations comply with labor laws and regulations
  • Transparency and communication are maintained
  • There are no misunderstandings between employers and employees

So, knowing your rights and obligations is essential.

Return to work notices are not just a formality; they carry legal weight. They serve as evidence that your employer has fulfilled their obligation to inform you of your return date and provide you with the necessary information. This notice also helps protect your rights as an employee, ensuring that you are aware of any changes in your work conditions or responsibilities (or in office plans as a whole).

Therefore, return to work/return to office notices create a fair and transparent process for both parties.

The importance of a return to work notice

Now, you might be wondering, "Why is this return to work notice such a big deal?" In this section, we'll outline the factors that make this type of work letter so essential.

1. They serve to protect employee rights

Return to work notices play a crucial role in re-establishing the rights and responsibilities of employees and should be in line with local employment law. So, they should outline not just your future working arrangement, but also include contact information and details about how to make requests or discuss your specific needs.

Imagine a scenario where you are returning to work after a medical leave. You may have certain limitations or need extra accommodations. A formal work letter enables you to communicate these needs to your employer, ensuring they respect your rights and your transition back to work is smooth.

2. They help maintain workplace safety

Return to office notices help ensure a safe working environment for everyone. They usually go beyond just informing you about your return date; they may include information about new health protocols, safety procedures, office plans, or any specific measures related to ongoing projects or tasks.

Those were essential immediately after the Covid-19 pandemic but continue to play an important role in some locations.

Or, for instance, if you work in a construction company, a return to work notice might provide details about updated protective equipment or training sessions that you need to attend before you get back to work.

So, if you receive this kind of work letter, remember that it is not just a piece of paper. It is a document that ensures your rights are protected, your concerns are addressed, and your safety is prioritized.

The key components of a return to work notice

Let's break down the anatomy of a return to work/return to office notice and examine its essential components. This information might be particularly useful to employers, but also helps you, as an employee, know what to expect.

Essential information that you can expect to see

A formal return to office work letter should provide comprehensive and clear details about your return, such as:

  • The date, time, and location where you're expected to report back to the office
  • Documentation or materials you need to bring, if any
  • Your schedule, at least for the first few days
  • Information on whether you should book a desk (f.e. via a desk booking software)

This information allows you to plan accordingly and prepare for your first days in the office.

Potential changes

To avoid any confusion or mix-ups, your employer should use the return to work notice to clearly communicate any changes, updates, or expectations you should be aware of.

For instance, if you're returning from a leave, the notice may highlight:

  • Changes in project timelines to ensure you're up to speed and can seamlessly start working with the new schedule in mind
  • Updates to your team's structure or hierarchy to ensure you're aware of any changes in roles and responsibilities
  • Changes in your own responsibilities to help you prepare mentally and professionally

Return to office mandates aren't an easy decision for employers. So, you might also read words of encouragement, appreciation, or gratitude. Ideally, the work letter should also include information on who to contact in case you have any questions, as well as on how to make a flexible working request.

How to respond to a return to work notice

Now that you've received your return to office plan, it's time to prepare yourself for the next steps. Knowing how to respond appropriately is key to ensuring a smooth transition.

1. Understand your responsibilities

As an employee, it's important to honor the commitments outlined in the return to office notice. This includes:

  • Reporting back to the office on time
  • Helping make sure in-person collaboration within your team is smooth and effective
  • Booking a desk in advance, in case your company is trialing a hybrid approach

2. Discuss your needs with your employer

In case your circumstances have changed or you need a different arrangement, make sure to give your employer due notice and enough time to react. For example, if you'd like to discuss a possible hybrid schedule, now is the time to start the negotiation process.

Or, if you'd like to postpone the date on which you need to be back at the office, talk to your direct manager or the HR department as soon as possible to find a suitable arrangement.

the HR department as soon as possible to find a suitable arrangement.

An empty office with a few desks
Not eager to return to the office full time? Check with your employer whether a hybrid arrangement is possible

3. Seek legal advice, if necessary

If you have any concerns regarding the return to work notice you received, it might be a good idea to seek legal advice. Employment laws can be complex, so having an expert by your side will ensure that your rights are protected throughout the process.

Common misconceptions about return to work notices

Now that we've covered the essentials, let's debunk some common misconceptions.

1. Misconception: The notice is optional for employees

Reality: A return to work or office notice is typically a formal directive from the employer. You're generally required to comply unless they have a valid reason or have made prior arrangements with your employer, for example for a hybrid schedule.

2. Misconception: The Notice means an immediate full-time return

Reality: Return to office notices often outline phased or hybrid approaches, where employees return gradually or split their time between home and the office.

3. Misconception: There's no room for negotiation

Reality: You may assume that the terms of the notice are non-negotiable. In reality, many employers are open to discussions about accommodations, flexible schedules, or continued remote work based on your circumstances and your work.

4. Misconception: The return to office is permanent

Reality: You might think that a return to office mandate signifies a permanent change. However, many companies are adopting flexible or hybrid models that continue to evolve. So, don't hesitate to talk about it with your manager or even suggest changes.

5. Misconception: The office environment will be the same

Reality: You might expect the office to be the same as it was pre-remote work. However, there might be significant changes in office layout, sanitation protocols, technology upgrades, new health guidelines, or even in the company culture.

Don't hesitate to suggest changes to make the return to the office easier

Creating the right conditions for a smooth transition is your employer's responsibility, but don't hesitate to be proactive during the entire process and suggest ways to improve everyone's time in the office.

For example, you might suggest a phased hybrid working model as a way to ensure teams get in-person time while also continuing to work remotely a part of the time.

For this, having the right software tools are key, and your employer might not even be aware of the options available.

Officely is one of the best desk booking tools with a Slack integration, which removes all the clutter, remembers where you like to sit, and knows when the best time to go to the office is -- which will make the transition to office work simpler for everyone.

Book a demo today to see how hybrid work can work for everyone: your employer and you.

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Max Shepherd-Cross

Max Shepherd-Cross

Max is one of the cofounders and CEO of Officely, a flexible work enablement platform. He has helped thousands of businesses not only transition to flexible work but instil it at the core of their culture and brand.

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