When it comes to returning to the office, which for many businesses, have stood largely empty for more than a year, we are going to have to navigate a new normal. The how, where, and even why we work have all shifted dramatically over the past 15 months, such that many workers are going to be turning to their HR representatives to help them adapt to their new workplace reality. Below, we examine some of the key challenges and push-back HR reps are expected to experience as folks return to the office, as well as some top tips to assuage concerns.
Safety will remain center stage
To encourage folks to return to the office, you have to first prove that the environment in which you expect to host them meets all current safety standards. Not only is it the “right” thing to do from a moral standpoint but should a Covid-19 outbreak ever occur at your place of business, you will need to be able to demonstrate to authorities that you took measures to protect your workforce. At a minimum, HR should be cognizant of current federal and state guidelines as it pertains to Covid-19 safety and make it clear to employees which rules you will be enforcing and under what circumstance. Now, that said, we have all seen how quickly states and even the federal government change their mind about Covid-19 rules, so be sure to include language in your policy that acknowledges that these rules are subject to change. Further, you may get more buy-in on your in-office policies if you poll your workers first about what rules they would like to have in place to facilitate a safe return to work and then not only implement the changes but let it be known that the idea was spurred by staff in order to further build trust.
We will rethink the 9-5
Who’d have thought that the key to your employee’s success in the office may lie in their actually being outside of the office? In one FlexJob survey, 95 percent of respondents reported that they were as productive or more productive when working from home versus going into the office. But is it really being absent from the physical building, or is it more a case that folks were more productive without the constraints of an 8-hour continuous workday? Some companies plan to harness this shift in productivity by dropping standard workday hour requirements and allowing employees to take as long, or as little time as they need to achieve production and quality goals. Of note, you’ll want to be careful about one of the major pitfalls of work from home and avoid creating a culture where employees feel that they must be “always on” and accessible as this can quickly contribute to burnout.
Workers may need to train up
When Covid-19 hit, many businesses quickly and significantly altered their business model to survive in a completely different world. As a result, many workers experienced significant changes to their job descriptions and may have shifted jobs altogether with minimal training. With folks returning to the office, now is the time to assess skill and/or knowledge gaps and provide the training necessary to get folks up to speed. To determine your training needs, poll your workers about not only where they would like additional support, but how that additional support should be provided, be it online, in person, or through other means. One bright side of the pandemic is that it forced companies to get creative with their professional development offerings, so employees now have more options than ever before to get up to speed.
Rethink team bonding
In the past, you didn’t have to do too terribly much to get your employees to bond. After all, they had the shared experience of coming to the same office each day, attending meetings with their peers, and working collaboratively on projects. However, once we were all stuck at home, employees became more siloed than ever. This loss of so-called “social capital” where employees could lean on the folks geographically closest to them, those that they had worked previously with, or simply the friendly person in the office can hinder collaboration, as well as feed into workers’ feeling of isolation. While the knee-jerk reaction might be to jump right back into big group projects and a ton of meetings, experts warn that it’s actually better to do the opposite and instead let employees ease back into the social aspect of work. You, as their leader, can help along the way by monitoring workloads and making sure that workers have the time and bandwidth to engage in meaningful collaborative projects.
Be prepared to address concerns
Working from home may have been tough on some workers, but what really had folks on edge were concerns about whether their employer would survive the pandemic at all. You would think that being invited back into the office would be enough to assuage concerns, but experts suggest that employers will continue to worry about job security, even as the economy bounces back. To help ease workers’ minds now is the time to really lead with transparency. Ensure that you are communicating information about the company’s financial future and be both honest and realistic about what the months and years ahead may look like. Admittedly, not every update is going to be rainbows and unicorns, but even sharing the not so positive news can be comforting to employees if you counter the news with your business’s plans to adapt and forge ahead. What are you doing to ensure the smooth transition of employees from home to office?