With vaccinations on the rise, returns to the office look like they may be on the horizon. Many employees have mixed feelings about returning to the office. According to one study, one in three people surveyed felt that they were more productive working remotely and would consider quitting if required to return to the office. However, that doesn’t mean employees never want to see the inside of the office again. Many are eager to return because they miss office camaraderie and working with colleagues, but that doesn’t mean they want to be at the office every day of the week. Most would prefer a hybrid model or a combination of remote and in-office work. Company leaders need to be proactive and intentional when deciding what strategies will work best for their company, whether it’s accommodating a fully remote workforce, a return to office life or a hybrid model.
When considering the optimal policy for your company, look at the nature of the work, the experience level of employees and employee preference, if it can be accommodated. As you develop post-COVID workforce strategies, here are 10 essential tips to help you and your employees embrace the transition with ease.
1. Get employee feedback.
One of the first steps in creating a successful return to the office is to collect employee feedback. Find out how many employees are comfortable returning to the office. For those that are not quite comfortable, ask what would need to happen for them to feel comfortable. Because a return-to-office is related to the health and well-being of your employees, it’s important to let them have a voice in how and when the transition happens. Gathering this information will be invaluable to ensuring a successful transition.
2. Create a flexible transition plan.
A flexible transition plan is key to helping employees ease into the return-to-office. Each company is different and has differing needs. A one-size-fits-all approach may not be the best method. Take the time needed to develop a plan that aligns with your business, your culture, and the needs of your employees. Then, roll it out knowing that as things progress, you may have to tweak the plan. Stay flexible and agile with your plans, especially with the uncertainty of the pandemic still lingering.
3. Give employees time to adjust.
Remember, many employees have been working remotely for months. They will need time to adjust and plan for a return to the office. Many working parents will need time to arrange daycare. Consider staggering the return-to-office for employees. Your goal should be to normalize getting back to work and ease people back to the office. Bring people back in shifts or only on specific days during the week. This will give you time to test your safety precautions with smaller groups.
4. Balance the needs of the company with the needs of the employees.
As much as possible, build employee-centric and custom return-to-work plans. The pandemic forced many people to reassess their lives and what matters most to them, which directly impacts their view of work-life balance. Objectively look at your return-to-work policies and where possible, create a balance that works best for you and your employees.
5. Make returning to the office optional.
We know that many employees now prefer to work remotely, so make returning to the office optional. Giving employees the autonomy to decide what’s best for them will make for better working relationships and will strengthen the bonds of trust between employee and manager.
6. Consider implementing a hybrid model.
While making returning to the office an option would be ideal, not every business can accommodate this as an option. Yet, being sensitive to employee needs is an important element to a successful return-to-work strategy. A year ago, we expected employees to work from home and be productive so our companies could remain profitable. If full-time remote work isn’t in the cards, consider offering a hybrid work model that combines time at the office with occasional remote work.
7. Make everyone feel safe against potential health risks.
Employees may feel anxious about the health risks associated with returning to the office. Before bringing people back in, set up sanitization stations, stock up on face masks, reconfigure high-traffic areas to help employees follow social distancing rules, ensure cleanliness protocols are visible and have real-time information available to all employees. Ask yourself what wellness looks like inside your business and how you can meet the wellness goals of your employees.
8. Communicate new policies.
The world has changed and how our offices operate has changed for the foreseeable future. Before bringing employees back to the office, you’ll want to prepare information to update them on new office policies related to health and hygiene, new programs that you might have implemented or new technologies. Think about creating a package that introduces employees to office changes.
9. Keep conversations going.
Open communication with employees is an important element of your return strategy. Let your team know that you are available to talk about any issues or problems that are concerning them. Hold regular meetings and check in with everyone regularly – in person or virtually. Encourage your people to talk with one another and to support each other. With the stresses created by the pandemic, it’s critical to ensure that people feel comfortable with the return-to-work transition. Don’t be afraid to talk about mental health, provide ongoing emotional support and provide your team with resources.
10. Find ways to boost morale and reinforce company culture.
To boost morale, encourage employees to take part in social activities whenever possible, host Friday happy hours or plan welcome back events such as invite people to share photos of their work-from-home pet companions, set up beverage or snack stations to let people catch up with each other and share experiences. You could even introduce a relaxed dress code (at least initially) since people have been accustomed to working in casual apparel for some time now. When reuniting a team that has been dispersed for several months, emphasizing company norms, values, ideals, and attitudes will unify them under a common mission.
It’s important that we don’t underestimate how difficult a transition back to the office can be for employees – our most essential resource. Be flexible and take things one step at a time. Keeping your employees healthy and safe is critical for continued operation. So, the more you can do to facilitate a stress-free return to the office, the better. Vexxit can match you with an HR consultant to help strategize a successful return-to-office plan, support employee engagement and build employee wellness policies.