45 Return to Office Ideas & Messages

By: | Updated: February 12, 2024

You found our list of fun return to office ideas.

Return to office ideas are ways to welcome employees back to the building after an extended time away. For example, a welcome back lunch, gifts, or Back to the Office Bingo. The purpose of these activities is to make the transition from working at home or having time off easier and to give employees a chance to bond and get to know each other after a prolonged absence. These actions are also known as “welcome back to the office ideas.”

These ideas are examples of employee engagement activities, staff morale boosters, and team building exercises, and are cause for team celebration.

This articles includes:

  • welcome back to the office party ideas
  • welcome back to the office gift ideas
  • welcome back to the office messages

Here we go!

Return to the office ideas

Here is a list of fun games and activities to welcome employees back to the office.

1. Casual dress days

Adjusting to a formal dress code can be a challenge after months of working from home or having time off and lounging around the house in T-shirts and sweats. You can make the transition easier by having casual dress days in the office. Designate at least one day per month where staff can wear more casual clothing such as T-shirts, leggings, sweat pants, jeans, or even pajamas. If feeling extra generous, then up the event to once per week. Or, if possible, then make comfy clothes the norm, and have employees dress formally on special occasions instead of defaulting to fancier attire every day.

You can even hold a costume contest and award the most comfortably-dressed colleague.

2. The Mandela Effect

The Mandela Effect is a phenomenon where people remember an event or detail differently than real life, or have a hard time distinguishing whether or not a detail is real or imagined. This game draws inspiration from that sensation and tests teammates’ rusty memories. The exercise challenges team members to recall details about each other after being separated for a long period of time.

You can either give players the questionnaire to fill out before they reunite with coworkers, or have participants sit in a circle facing out and fill out the forms from memory without peeking.

After five minutes, go over the answers and see which players remembered colleagues best. The game teaches teammates to be more observant and pay attention to coworkers, and can be a challenge even for teammates who have not been away from each other for long.

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3. Back to the Office Bingo

Back to the Office Bingo is a version of work Bingo that helps coworkers catch up with each other. To play the game, hand out cards and encourage players to talk to each other. Participants mark squares with the names of coworkers who fit the descriptions. To get Bingo, players must get at least five boxes in a row, column, or diagonal, and must use the names of five different people within that line.

Here is a starter template we made for your game:

You can either play the game on a time limit, for instance 5-10 minutes, or hold a more casual competition and allow participants to play during downtime.

For more ideas, check out Online Team Building Bingo or Happy Hour Bingo.

4. Photo Recap

Whether you throw a party to welcome a single employee back to the office or the soiree is to welcome back the workforce at large, you can make a video or a photo slideshow to help coworkers get up to speed on each other’s lives.

A week or two before the party, ask teammates to submit pictures, clips, and fun facts. Then, compile contributions into a slideshow or video, and play the reel at the party. You can either display photos on loop silently in the background, or take a few moments to present the video to the group.

5. Personal Trivia

Personal Trivia is a great way to help returning coworkers get reacquainted with teammates. To gather material for a game, ask coworkers to fill out a form before the game. Sample questions might include icebreaker prompts like “what is the coolest place you have ever visited?” or “what is your proudest accomplishment?”

Using these responses, create trivia questions. Then, load the questions into a trivia app like Kahoot! and play the game at your welcome party. The player or team who answers the most coworker-centric questions correctly wins the game and earns a prize.

Or, here are more general trivia questions to use for work events.

6. Welcome Back Lunch

Food is a center point of any good celebration. Not to mention, shared meals are a powerful community-building activity. One of the best ways to welcome team members back to the office is to hold a welcome back lunch.

There are many ways you can structure the meal. For example, you can make a reservation at a restaurant and let the team chat and catch up with each other, or cater in and give teammates time to mingle in the conference room. To give team members fresh air and sunshine with the food, you can plan a picnic or BBQ or book a food truck. Or, you can help employees show off how much their culinary skills have improved during the absence by hosting a potluck or cook off.

You could even offer employees a stipend to eat out with different coworkers.

Chances are, employees will feel much better about returning onsite if free food is involved.

7. Survey Says

One of the easiest ways to help coworkers catch up with each other post-break is by handing out a survey. This just-for-fun survey asks teammates questions about what they have been up to in the past few months.

Here are a few example questions:

  1. What is the biggest change in your life so far this year?
  2. Name one thing that hasn’t changed about you this year.
  3. What is one new thing you learned in the past couple of months?
  4. What might your coworkers be surprised to hear about your life in the past few months?
  5. What are you looking forward to in the year to come?
  6. Name a hobby or activity that you recently picked up.
  7. Name something new that you have tried.
  8. What is the biggest difference in your work life?
  9. What is the biggest difference in your home life?
  10. What is one thing you do every day right now?
  11. What word best describes your life at the moment?
  12. What quote or saying most resonates with you right now?

Be sure to share answers with the group. For instance, make the questions into a trivia game, send responses in a team email, make each teammate a profile page with these personal facts, or do staff spotlights on social media, an internal blog, or a bulletin board.

You can even highlight common answers to help teammates connect through shared similarities.

Welcome back to the office gift ideas

Here is a list of great gift ideas for employees returning to the office.

1. Mug and coffee

Coffee and coffee mugs are one of the most practical gifts to give an office worker, especially if returning to the office means adjusting to different work hours and new sleep schedules.

To sweeten the return to the office, you can invest in a nice new coffee machine setup for the breakroom. Think French presses, interesting blends, cold brew on tap, or a functional espresso machine. Chances are, coworkers may not be able to indulge in these amenities at home, and getting to enjoy fancy coffee at the office can be a bright side of coming back onsite.

Or, you can give employees a travel mug and a gift card to a nearby cafe for those moments when they need an escape from the office.

2. Desk decorating stipend

When working from home, employees can personalize their workspaces for maximum comfort. You can soften the blow of having to return to a more uniform office environment by offering a desk decorating stipend. Employees can use this perk to buy posters, plants, bobbleheads, stationery, organizers, coffee devices, or any other special touches that make their workspaces more homey and hospitable. Simply ask employees to submit receipts and reimburse expenses, or offer gift cards to office supply stores.

3. Snack stash

After being out of the office for so long, it takes time to rebuild a sizable snack stash. To help returning employees refill their snack drawers, give these teammates gourmet gift boxes. These care packages can include an assortment of single-sized snacks to satisfy the midday munchies. For an extra special touch, fill the boxes with your teammates’ favorite snacks, healthy snacks, or foods from local vendors.

Pro tip: Also ensure that vending machines get stocked with a good selection of fresh goodies.

Check out this list of the best office snacks.

4. Office survival kits

Returning employees may forget or lack the essentials that help solve office issues. Providing these supplies can be one of the most practical back to the office gift ideas. Simply make up kits of must-haves for office work, and leave the kits on returning employees’ desks.

Here are a few ideas of items to include:

  • Hand sanitizer
  • Aspirin and stomach medicine
  • Sticky notes
  • Extra pens
  • Hair ties
  • Tissues
  • Fun sized chocolate
  • Blank greeting cards
  • Breath mints
  • Water bottle
  • Stain pen
  • Travel sized first aid kit
  • Cleaning wipes

To finish the gift off, place the items in a box or bag labeled with “office survival kit” and the employee’s name.

Pro tip: For extra fun, place gift cards inside of random kits as a bonus gift.

5. Lunch

Complimentary meals are one of the best gifts to give to returning employees. Free food is a much-beloved work perk, plus the meals give coworkers a chance to socialize and catch up with each other.

There are many ways you can give meals to returning team members, for instance holding a formal lunch at a restaurant or in an office meeting space.

Here are a few more welcome back lunch ideas:

  • Food trucks
  • Theme lunches
  • Cookoff
  • Potluck showing off new cooking skills (reimburse or give stipend for ingredients)
  • Gift cards to nearby restaurants
  • Cooking class
  • Tasting experience
  • Picnic or BBQ

Here is a list of group cooking classes that can make this gift into a team building experience.

6. Parking pass

If you are not able to offer employees a personal parking space in a company lot or garage, then you can pay towards a public parking pass. Commuting costs are one of the main drawbacks of working in an office, and subsidizing these costs can help to shoulder the burden of transitioning from home to the office.

Parking is not the only expense associated with working in the office. You can also offer money towards public transportation passes or gas cards to make up for travel costs.

7. Photo frame

Coming back to the office often means spending less time with pets and family members. You can help employees keep their loved ones near at work by giving returning team members picture frames to decorate their desks with.

To make the gift extra special, you can give fancy digital frames or frames with the company logo. Or, give employees credit towards a photo gift site so that they can custom make mugs, magnets, calendars or other office supplies of their choosing with images of their loved ones.

8. Leave early pass

One of the best gifts to give employees returning to the office is a pass to leave early or take an extra free day, no questions asked. Or, if you do not normally offer remote work options, then you can give your employees an allowance of days to work from home instead of coming to the office for a certain number of days. These perks cost very little to the company and can improve productivity. The gift gives returning employees some leeway to settle into the office working arrangement with the ability to skip days that they do not feel up to making the trip and working eight hours straight in the building.

For more inspiration, check out these lists of swag ideas for employees and staff gift ideas.

Welcome back to the office messages

Here are some phrases you can use to welcome team members back to the office.

  1. Missed seeing your face everyday! Happy to be back working together.
  2. As much as I will miss seeing your cat/dog during meetings, I am so happy to be back in the same building as you.
  3. You were missed. Welcome back.
  4. There is nothing quite like knowing that you are just down the hall. Welcome back.
  5. It has been too long. Welcome back to where you belong.
  6. We are so happy to have you back with us.
  7. The office was not the same without you. This place is better when you are here.
  8. Without you, this office is just a building.
  9. Thank you for choosing to be back here with us. We promise to create a safe and happy workspace for you.
  10. Here we are again. Let’s show them how it’s done!
    There is nowhere else we would rather be and no one else we would rather be here with.
  11. Of all the places you could be, we are so grateful that you chose to be back here with us.
  12. We knew you would be back, but that does not make this moment any less awesome!
  13. We waited so long to say hello again, so hello again!
  14. Cannot wait to see all the wonderful things you are going to do back in this office.
  15. Work feels less like work when you are here. Welcome back!
  16. We are so glad that you are back.
  17. You may have been away, but you were never forgotten. So glad to have you back in the office.
  18. Even when we are apart, you are a part of the team. Welcome back.
  19. Out of office wore out its welcome. Welcome back.
  20. Welcome back to where the magic happens. This building is a little more magical just by having you inside.
  21. So nice to finally have the team back together. Welcome!
  22. We missed your voice, your face, and your energy. So pleased to have you back in the office.
  23. When we are together, we can do anything. Welcome back.
  24. When I am next to you, I feel there is nothing I cannot do. Welcome back to the office.
  25. When you were not here, something felt not quite right. Now that you are back, work feels like it should.
  26. We may not be as cute as your cat/dog/kid, but we hope you enjoy spending time with us anyway. (Plus, at least we will not sit on your keyboard.)
  27. Back already? Just teasing- we missed you!
  28. So happy that goodbye for now has finally turned into hello again. Welcome back.
  29. There are a million ways to say welcome back to the office, but not one can truly express how happy we are to have you back.

For more inspiration, check out employee appreciation quotes and work anniversary quotes.

Final thoughts

There are many reasons an employee may return to the office after an extended period of time. For instance, a traveling assignment, maternity or paternity leave, time off to care for a family member, medical leave, working from home, coming back to the company after taking another job, or returning after being off for the season. Whatever the reason for the absence, returning onsite can be a disorienting experience, and the employee may need time to settle back in and readjust. The welcome back activities, games, gifts, and sentiments on this list can help employees feel more at ease and make the transition easier, plus these gestures are sure to make staff feel seen and valued.

For more ways to acknowledge employees, check out these lists of employee of the month ideas, staff recognition program how-tos, and ways to celebrate work anniversaries.

Next, check out our list of fun office party ideas and these fun office challenge ideas for work.

We also have a hot-desking guide, one on returnship programs, one on coffee badging, and one on return-to-work programs.

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FAQ: Return to the office ideas

Here are common answers to questions about ideas for returning to the office.

What are welcome back to the office ideas?

Welcome back to the office ideas are ways to welcome team members back onsite after a long leave. The purpose of these activities is to make employees feel less nervous about coming back to work and to foster team bonding among coworkers who have been apart for a while.

What are some good return to the office ideas for employees? 

Some good welcome back to the office ideas for employees include casual dress days, welcome back lunches, and personal trivia.

How do you welcome employees back into the office?

Welcoming employees back into the office can be an occasion for celebration. You can throw a party or a welcome back lunch, hand out cards with special messaging, or give gifts. These friendly gestures will make teammates feel more valued and make the transition easier.

What are the best welcome back to the office gifts for employees?

The best welcome back to the office gifts for employees include desk decorating stipends, parking passes, snack stashes, and office survival kits.

Author avatar


Marketing Coordinator at teambuilding.com.
Angela has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and worked as a community manager with Yelp to plan events for businesses.


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