Navigating the Coronavirus pandemic and its aftermath is one of the biggest business challenges of our time. To keep operations going, most companies embraced new ways of working that left their offices, factories, and stores empty. More than 2 years later, the world looks much different. As business comes surging back, management teams must lead their companies through these fast-moving changes.
Living through a modern-day pandemic is unprecedented. Workers had to make a lot of adjustments when they were working from home. Transitioning back to the office may feel overwhelming due to the potential safety issues, commuting, and face-to-face interactions.
How can you ensure a smooth transition back to the office
Management must commit to a "return-to-office" strategy, making sure these safety, work-life balance, and social concerns are addressed and part of their approach. Here's what can be done to help ease the transition.
1. Work out a plan to integrate employees at their own pace
Try to identify which aspects of the transition might be most troubling to your workers. Some people thrive in a sociable office space, while others do their best work in the peace of their home. Working on a synchronized schedule can improve coordination, but it can also bring up constant communications that disrupt focus.
Managers need to consider non-synchronous timetables in addition to where people work. Arrange a few different scheduling options and suggest a plan to balance your workforce needs with those of the job. For instance, if the goal is to adopt a hybrid schedule where they're in the office three days a week, they can start with one and build up to three.
2. Apply safety procedures
Companies have to ensure their workplaces are as safe as they can be. Employees may fear to return to business as usual; preparing for and communicating how safety is a top priority will lessen worries and increase trust. Safety measures might include:
- Providing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves, face shields, etc.
- Placing hand sanitiser dispensers at critical spots
- Installing desktop and room dividers
- Separating shifts and lunch/rest breaks
- Rotating weeks in the office and working remotely
- Implementing one-way traffic patterns throughout the workplace
3. Ask questions
After informing your employees about the plans to bring them back to the office, ask them about it. Coordinate with HR to check if there are elements they are confused about or aspects that don’t seem to be well-defined. Knowing what to expect in their upcoming work environment may ease the stress of the unknown. Plus, when workers know their voice matters, they are more likely to be engaged and committed.
This process can be an opportunity for you to support an adequate response to your employees' ever-evolving needs, and also to assess if the plan requires some kind of change or exception.
4. Consider employees' mental health in your "return-to-office" strategy
These past years have shown to us the necessity of wellbeing and mental health care. According to a McKinsey survey, almost half of respondents (49 %) anticipate that going back to on-site work will have somewhat or significant negative impacts on their mental health. As you prepare to bring your workers back to the office, go beyond hand sanitiser stations and social distancing policies. By prioritising mental health as part of return planning, employers can reduce stress and anxiety for their workers.
5. Reinforce workplace culture
Due to the pandemic and the resulting shift to remote work, many employees have become adjusted to a culture of working and collaborating virtually. Some may struggle to rebuild camaraderie and good working relations with team members and the rest of the workforce. Interpersonal relationships affect the employees' job motivation and performance since studies have shown that human connection helps people tolerate stress and recover from it.
Hosting “back to work” activities to accustom old and new employees to the workplace culture can ease the return to the physical office.
Ensuring your workforce stays safe and healthy should be a top priority for all employers. There are many aspects to consider while enabling a seamless return to work. But, just like working remotely, going back to the office will eventually feel like a normal part of life, with advantages and challenges. Collaboration among managers and peers will support adjustments and strengthen resilience against the stress of change.