As restrictions due to COVID-19 continue to ease in some parts of the world, the reality of having to return to the office is beginning to set in for employees and management alike.
To ensure a smooth return back to the office, here are six strategies to consider.
Back to the Office: 6 Strategies for a Smooth Return
Listen and gather feedback from employees.
There are probably several things that your staff loved – and hated – about lockdown and working from home.
Before creating a back-to-office plan, it is wise to gather feedback from your employees about their experience over the past year. Aim to figure out the answers to questions like:
- Did your staff feel like they were more efficient when working from home?
- Did they have a better work-life balance?
- What did they miss the most about working in person?
- What are they the most afraid or concerned about regarding the return to office?
Depending on the size of your organization, you can easily gather the answers to these questions through 1-1 meetings or even a company-wide survey. Once you have everyone’s feedback in a consolidated report, you can identify trends to help inform and improve your employee experience offering going forward.
Draft a back-to-office game plan.
Nobody likes a haphazard or poorly thought-out plan, and your staff will become frustrated if the transition back to the office is unorganized.
To prevent this from happening, set aside time to draft a back to office “game plan”. This should involve input from upper management along with functional teams like human resources, health and safety, and operations.
In light of COVID-19, here are a few things to consider when creating your plan:
- Do you have established health screening procedures for employees and/or clients?
- What happens if an office or team is exposed to COVID-19?
- What is the personal protective equipment (PPE) policy for staff and clients? Will the company provide this?
- How will the office setup and scheduling comply with social distancing requirements?
- Will employees have the option to work from home a few days per week?
Once you have an idea of what the return to office will look like, you should then communicate this to your staff in a clear and concise way. This will help to manage expectations and ease any concerns that your staff may have about the transition back to office life.
Give employees plenty of time to prepare.
Your employees have had to adapt and change a lot over the past year, and it might not be easy for them to just “switch back” to office life at the drop of a hat – especially now that they have established new routines during lockdown.
As a courtesy to your staff, give them some time to prepare for the transition back to the office. Many of your employees may still be homeschooling their children or looking after a loved one, and it will take them some time to make new arrangements for these responsibilities.
While there is no standard “rule” for how much notice to give employees, giving them around 4-6 weeks’ notice ahead of your planned return to office should be sufficient.
Make the return as welcoming and “fun” as possible.
Thousands of employees have not set foot in the office in over a year, and many of them are likely feeling nervous, apprehensive, and concerned about what to expect when they head back.
To help ease these concerns, make an effort to provide a warm welcome to employees as they trickle back into the workplace. Here are a few ways that you can help employees feel welcome:
- Create “welcome back kits” packed with hand sanitizer, face masks, a letter from the CEO, and perhaps a sweet treat.
- Provide free coffee and donuts during the first week back to work (as long as they are provided in a way that is aligned with your health and safety guidelines).
- Invite employees to a socially distanced happy hour where they can reconnect and chat with colleagues in person.
Don’t be afraid to adapt and make changes when necessary.
Flexibility was key throughout COVID-19 and it will continue to be key in the coming months and years post-COVID. For managers, that means it is critical to view this time of transition as an opportunity rather than a threat.
For example, not every aspect of your back to office plan may go as smoothly as you had hoped – but that’s okay! The most important thing you can do right now is to listen, adapt when necessary, and maintain a positive attitude throughout the entire transition process.
Remain empathetic and realistic.
From dealing with strict lockdown restrictions to losing friends and family members due to COVID-19, your employees have been through over the past year. Some may be still grappling with grief, and others may still be anxious about the prospect of becoming ill.
As an employer, it is important that you are aware of this and empathetic of your staff’s emotional needs and private lives.
To cultivate a culture of empathy in the office, try the following suggestions:
- Execute a wellness initiative with workshops on mental health and wellbeing.
- Give employees access to counselors who can help them manage deeper mental health issues such as grief, anxiety, and depression.
- Discourage presenteeism and show compassion in cases where an employee might be sick or coping with the loss of a loved one.
Final Thought: Understand that a return to office does not necessarily mean a return to the way things were prior to COVID-19.
The world is a completely different place now than it was before COVID-19. Even your employees may look or seem like completely different people today compared to a year ago. As a company, it is important to stay mindful of this and not just assume that everything will go back to the way it was prior to the pandemic.
The most successful companies will see this change as a positive, and use it as an opportunity to innovate, improve, and create a stronger company going forward.