The evolution of workspaces over the past few years has made everyone wonder if we will ever return to office facilities after this long period of remote collaboration. With all the benefits of working from home, people don’t see this transition as something they long for at a time of uncertainty. In most cases they just don’t understand how it is possible or if companies are ready to execute a return to office plan.
However, for many companies going back to the office is necessary. Fortunately, a positive outcome that this pandemic produced was that we have become more aware of workforce needs and fears. So, it is natural that today business leaders want to help their staff feel safe while remaining productive. With that said, let’s see how you can ensure a safe transition in which the workforce stays motivated and willing to collaborate.
The return to the office after COVID-19
During the over a year of working from home, people experienced not only isolation. They came through some of the most challenging mental, emotional, and physical situations a human being could face. Although each person’s situation might be different, this pandemic has changed the world as we know it. If you think about it, the risk of the health and safety of those we love is a heavy burden to bear.
Of course, the idea of going back to the office will cause a lot of anxiety among your workforces. Moreover, as a leader, you already know that most of your staff do not feel ready to return to the office after COVID. However, as conditions permit, you should have a comprehensive return to office plan and address employees’ concerns effectively while creating a safe space for all.
We recommend that you offer flexible work models when welcoming back your employees after the pandemic. As a leader, you should make the necessary efforts to understand the traumas and experiences people will be dealing with. Some of them lost loved ones, including coworkers who they didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to. Some have gone through difficult health conditions and are still recovering. In general, you need to consider the stress everyone has upon their shoulders and develop an end-to-end return to office strategy to guarantee a seamless and effective shift.
Fundamental efforts you should consider to welcome your team back
We should admit that people are now used to being at home. Instead of commuting, they can spend that time with family or friends. Disturbing that routine, going to work, and increasing their transmission risks with more in-person interactions can be stressful. However, it can also be helpful and offer some advantages. As you prepare to welcome people back to the office, consider the following actions to help you build a favorable atmosphere where everyone feels safe and motivated.
1. Create a flexible return to office plan
First, you need a coherent return to office plan and a clear understanding of who needs to go back and how often. At this point, people realize they can work from anywhere and still complete their tasks. So, start with answering this simple question, “Is it truly important to get them back to the office with a nine-to-five routine?” If it is possible, start with flexible and hybrid models to facilitate employees’ transition.
Make sure that safety measures are in place and communicate all your measures to the employees. It is critical to make them feel protected and comfortable. With newly established protocols, your leadership skills and honesty will play a prominent role in how you provide answers and guidance.
2. Listen to what your teammates have to say
Allow each team member to express their needs and expectations. Try to lead with compassion and find ways to balance time and workloads according to their conditions. You will be surprised at how much people are willing to do on behalf of a human-centered company. So, we strongly suggest making time to gather your team together and encourage them to share what they have learned or, in some cases, unlearned during the pandemic. By doing so, you will have a bigger picture of what they have gone through.
Additionally, involve your employees in problem-solving situations and listen to their ideas and suggestions. They will be more committed to the solutions they’ve initially proposed.
3. Allow yourself to be vulnerable
As a leader, you deal with many expectations from your role. The return to office may also be a struggle for you, and it will require time to adjust. There is no need to hide any mixed feelings you may have. Being vulnerable with your team can build deeper relationships and more empathetic connections.
As you become more open about your feelings, be careful not to exaggerate. Keep in mind that your example can go a long way. Your staff anticipates your leadership. Therefore, creating an environment where trust, kindness, and respect abound make a tremendous difference.
4. Reestablish relationships
Fifty percent of Americans admitted that collaboration and engagement with colleagues were better in person. Moreover, the same survey found that 39 percent named difficulties in collaboration as the main reason for being unproductive. It is obvious that many people miss the time spent with coworkers in real life. So, these findings can help you motivate them and make the return to office easier.
The pandemic has changed us in many ways. Your employees are not the same people they were before isolation. Ask them for ideas to rebuild relationships and find time to have non-work-related conversations.
5. Understand that everyone is grieving
Grieving is such a profound and complex feeling that sometimes we underestimate its power. We avoid talking about it, and it is challenging to handle. That is why leaders need to admit, understand, and allow people time to adjust to it.
It is important to note that everyone is grieving in some way. Life as we each knew it is lost, and even worse, some of us lost people we had shared that life with. So, keep in mind that reconstructing a new reality will take time.
Be patient and tolerant, ensure people have the necessary time to recover and help them embrace the new normal with your support.
6. Assign mentors to new employees
Think of the people hired in 2020 or 2021. They have never or hardly been to the office and are not familiar with the facilities. Or what about the new graduates who started their first job working from home? Their venture with your company has been entirely different from those who have been in the organization longer.
Although everyone will need some support, ensure that new hires have mentors to help them create workplace connections. They should not feel left out. So, you need to help them feel integrated as they return to office life and work towards clear expectations.
Even if it takes some time to create a mentorship program or find the right experts, this may become a vital retention asset for your team. Set concrete goals and assess the progress regularly. As you designate mentors, new work connections will create confidence and a sense of belonging.
7. Build a climate of joy
Any leadership team should embrace the commitment to create a joyful environment for its personnel. Offering programs that promote an optimistic and healthy atmosphere, both physical and psychological, has become vital in a time of much distress. Encourage mindfulness and well-being activities, invite your team to have fun, and try to smile more despite how challenging your day could be.
Happiness can be contagious. As you set an example and learn to enjoy your job, those around you will want to follow and experience the same emotions. Working back at the office, leaders should ensure everyone feels welcome and appreciated while creating a space where celebration, humor, and playfulness are permitted.
Find what interests people have in common and create joyful experiences for them. Everyone seeks joy, and its power can help your staff build stronger bonds than any other activity.
Predictions for unexplored work environments
While companies and leaders learn to adapt, only time will tell what strategies are effective and what needs a different approach. While we all explore the future of work, we also have solid expectations of current implemented practices. For instance, a recent survey predicts that the demand for remote work will push companies to offer benefits such as home office equipment and technology to remain competitive. Since most will opt for hybrid models or return to office facilities, the workspace will still play a significant role, but it will be a matter of choice.
The work across groups will normally be a mix of virtual and in-person collaboration. Conference rooms will be equipped with tools and technology to enable and facilitate virtual cooperation. In addition, we will see desk sharing as a standard practice in many organizations, along with innovative workspaces prioritizing mental and physical health.
Having everyone at the office on a set schedule is a practice from the past. So, as you navigate the transition smoothly and effectively for everyone, you will figure out what works for your people and what should be improved. In a way, each organization and team leader will have the freedom to create protocols and design strategies that align with their personnel needs.
How leaders manage this transition will make a meaningful impact on their employees. Take the necessary actions to ensure your efforts meet their expectations.