HR managers are set to tackle an unprecedented challenge: helping organizations and team members return to work amidst an ongoing pandemic. In March of 2020, many managers found themselves sending employees home, armed with a laptop. But now with cases subsiding and vaccinations rising, returning to the old office humdrum is within sight.
Or is it?
The world’s bout with Covid-19 has had a colossal impact on a myriad of industries across the globe. Many sectors have been derailed by drastic drops in demand for products and services, and unemployment is at an all-time high (and still far from pre-pandemic levels).
Companies and organizations that have been able to continue amidst the pandemic are most likely those who have converted to a remote work model. Or, they have made substantial safety and health changes to protect workers.
But as the world is opening up, are employers and employees amenable to bringing people back to the office full time?
Employer return to work considerations
Employers are leaning towards people reporting for work on-site. The collaboration, engagement, and innovation are unparalleled when done face to face – it’s something even the best online platforms couldn’t offer just yet. Question is, is this what your workers want? It is anticipated by global consultant McKinsey and Co. that 1 in 4 employees will be changing jobs this year. The competition for talent is on.
A research survey by the Gensler Research Institute revealed that 71% prefer a completely remote setup, or some hybrid type of arrangement. It’s hard to break from the routine that we’ve gotten used to the past few months. The commute time alone (or even the lack of it), has given people unmatched benefits for parents and those who look after elderly family members.
Further, many prefer to work away from the cubicle because most work cultures just aren’t conducive to productivity and creativity. True, the challenge of working remotely can get too real (lack of space, blurred lines between home and office, distractions, feelings of isolation …) but many would go for any other dilemma than draining office drama, and indifferent colleagues, and controlling bosses.
If you’re in a tight spot, here’s what to keep in mind – requiring a Monday to Friday, 9-to-5 routine will most likely be a deal-breaker. Your best, most trusted employees may also demand maximum flexibility.
Meanwhile, you want to engage, retain, and produce.
So what are your options?
There is likely no going back to how you were pre-pandemic. Consider offering employees the flexibility to work remotely BUT institute positive, absorbing, and inclusive experiences in the office.
Feeling connected and included means being HEARD, SEEN, ACKNOWLEDGED, and APPRECIATED.
Cliché as this may sound, make them WANT to be in the office together BY NURTURING A CULTURE THAT SPOTLIGHTS RELATIONAL CONNECTION. The mindset won’t happen on a specific date. Recoveries aren’t static. And connection is something that everyone experiences differently.
For instance, some offices provide creature comforts (game rooms, nap capsules, spa days, free meals, award nights…). But recognition may also look less like Thursday night outs and more like collaborating on a project with a colleague. It could also mean posting a message in Trello and receiving respectful, constructive feedback and interaction.
Take advantage of the Zoom / GoogleMeet / Microsoft Teams virtual meeting fatigue. Once you meet up at work, make face-to-face meetings significant AND significantly short. Ditto for virtual meetings. Shorter meetings are far more efficient and engaging. But do create time blocks (in person or online) for those random connections. Those few minutes of cheerful banter are critical for developing team culture.
Further, gauge what tasks fall under the remote work zip code. Theoretically, working from home is ideal for independent tasks. But when tasks are codependent or interdependent, a physical huddle is necessary. Post-lockdown work arrangements need to be based on what the work requires. Hybrid approaches won’t work if whether or not reporting to work depends on the individual. In this aspect, include your employees in the decision-making process by being candid with what the organization/business needs. Engage your team in solution creation.
Last but not least, never lose compassion. Lead and manage with empathy. Remember that there’s no going back to pre-pandemic. We are forever changed by this experience. Some employees may still be grieving over the loss of a loved one. Some are still so burnt out and traumatized. Others have fallen victim to the virus. Many are still dealing with mental health issues (some even made worse by the pandemic). Add to that, financial constraints. The list is long.
Empathy return to work skills
Actively listen, check-in, and offer support. Be generous with words of gratitude and make time for meaningful conversations. Be sensitive to needs. Being compassionate doesn’t mean being a pushover and small acts of kindness go a long way.
Is work now more digitally-powered? How is your level of interaction? What was your work culture like during the lockdown? What were your issues and what would you like to see differently, moving forward?
Take the guesswork out of the transition. Talk to us.
Care to dig deeper into the return to work topic?
The following articles contribute more to this conversation:
- Hope Employees Will Return to the Office? Start Here.
- To return to business as usual would be a loss’: How companies can keep workers connected post-pandemic
- COVID Killed the Traditional Workplace. What Should Companies Do Now?
Copyright TIGERS Success Series, Inc. by Dianne Crampton
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