Many workers remain teleworking due to the pandemic, and many companies don’t plan to return to the office until 2022. Because the shift to remote work was so successful for many organizations, some workers will be reluctant to head back to in-person work. When approaching the return to the office, leaders need to keep these strategies in mind.
The COVID-19 pandemic is finally showing signs of slowing down, but many Americans still aren’t going back to the office. About 1 in 5 American workers remained teleworking in June 2021, and a recent survey revealed that many CEOs don’t anticipate returning to “normal” until 2022.
For the most part, companies that remain remote are trying to keep employees safe. Amid the spread of the highly contagious delta variant, several influential tech companies — including Google, Apple, and Lyft — recently delayed plans to return to the office. It’s likely that others will follow suit.
Though the remote model has largely been embraced by employees seeking more freedom and flexibility, there are plenty of reasons why business leaders might want to reopen the workplace. Bringing employees together in the same space can positively affect collaboration and company culture. Plus, returning to the office might help companies that have struggled to maintain productivity in a remote environment.
That said, some employees will resist going back. As offices reopen, Americans are quitting their jobs in record numbers. This phenomenon, called “The Great Resignation,” is a clear signal that employers must evolve to attract and keep talent. Of course, not all workers are opposed to going back. But to make the transition easier for everyone, leaders should keep the following tips in mind:
- Make safety the main priority.
Before asking employees to venture back into the office, leaders must show that they have a plan to keep them safe. Business leaders might consider rotating groups of employees into the workplace on different days to make it easier for them to maintain distance from one another. They can also modify the physical space to reduce the possibility of spreading illness.
According to Richard Shaffer, senior account executive at Digilock, it’s not enough to provide beautiful workspaces: “Modern office designs need to consider ways to maximize the orientation of equipment and modular office furniture to promote social distancing and safety guidelines while still getting value out of the available workplace footprint,” he says. Workers want to feel comfortable in the office even if they’re not there all week.
- Give employees a reason to come back.
Many employees have optimized their home offices to reflect their unique work styles. Leaders who want to persuade them to come back might have to offer new incentives: Standing workstations, catered lunches, and meditation rooms could help. But if employees have worked effectively from home throughout the pandemic, don’t force them to give up their existing setups entirely.
Offering workers the choice to come into the office on certain days or scheduling office time around projects that require more collaboration can be a win-win. Employees won’t have to sacrifice the freedom and flexibility they’ve enjoyed during the pandemic while leaders regain opportunities to strengthen company culture and maximize team productivity.
- Maintain clear lines of communication.
According to Yvonne Teo, vice president of human resources at ADP, internal communication was a challenge for many companies even before the pandemic. “Employers need to find new ways to counteract the absence of face-to-face interactions or the loss of staples in the diary that are communication-driven, such as monthly town hall meetings,” says Teo.
A multichannel approach to employee communication will be critical to building trust and connection between team members. This gives everyone the chance to make their voices heard. Those who are hesitant to return shouldn’t feel uncomfortable expressing their concerns, so give them opportunities to do so without fear of consequences. Additionally, concise, clear messaging will reduce instances of confusion around new policies and ensure that employees can take advantage of the available resources.
- Focus on strengthening company culture.
Now is the time to put a renewed emphasis on building strong company cultures. According to management consultant and executive coach Liz Kislik, it’s important to adapt culture-building activities to the workplace environment. “If a senior leader routinely met with your team for coffee, for example, try scheduling virtual coffee hours at the old days and times, restoring as many comforting details as possible, even if you have to ship supplies to employees’ homes,” she says.
When it comes to the office, parties, fun team activities, and other bonding opportunities won’t just strengthen the connections between team members. They’ll also add incentives for remote employees to venture in more frequently. Creating an office environment that people want to be a part of will encourage hesitant employees to join in.
A recent PwC survey revealed that 83% of leaders feel that the shift to remote work was successful for their companies. Another survey from LiveCareer found that almost one-third of workers would rather quit than return to the office full time. With that in mind, don’t discount the idea of implementing a hybrid workforce model even after the pandemic recedes. The world of work has changed, and savvy leaders will adapt accordingly.
Written by Rhett Power.
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