For the past year, a huge majority of office employees have adapted to a remote work environment. But with lockdowns lifting all over the world, vaccines readily available, and mask mandates being overturned, many remote workers are now returning to the office. Up until this point, many companies haven’t had to deal with a proper “return to work” strategy. But overlooking the need for a smooth remote to office transition could be detrimental to company culture and employee satisfaction.
Hopefully, most employees will be excited about their return to the office. That being said, they have likely adapted to a home-work life that’s very different from an in-person environment. While the ins and outs and basic requirements of their job may not be much different, a year away from a regular work schedule at the office will have vastly changed their routine.
For one, returning to the office means giving up on a convenient work-from-home life that they’ve probably adjusted to rather nicely. Of course, they knew it wouldn’t last forever, but that doesn’t make the return to a regular work schedule any less jarring. Many workers may be extremely reluctant to return to the office, some because of fears about the virus and others simply because they’ve adapted to (and enjoyed) working from home.
It’s critically important that even with a vaccine you’re sensitive to any concerns about safety measures that your employees rightfully have. Many employees have a home life that requires them to be cautious about COVID-related problems. For example, employees who may have an immune-compromised or elderly family member living in their household. For these reasons, it’s important that you provide a smooth and safe transition to ensure that employees remain happy and performing their best.
Give Employees Scheduling Options
The office is reopening, so it may feel as though it’s time to jump back in where you left off before quarantine. That simply isn’t the case. Many employees are still going to be apprehensive about the effects of COVID and the potential dangers that come with in-person work. Requiring them to return without being sensitive to these concerns and putting proper safety precautions in place is insensitive. Without addressing and recognizing their worries you’re giving off the impression that you don’t care about them. What’s more, with many states dropping their mask mandates, it’s even more vital that you have an in-office plan for a safe return to work transition.
If it’s possible, let your employees create a hybrid schedule of sorts. Employees that have no issue completing a large portion of their job remotely should be allowed to choose to do so. There’s a high likelihood that allowing employees to continue to do some of their work from home will actually help them to be more productive and perform to a higher degree. They’ll feel safe, cared for, and the transition will be more gradual and less jarring.
A hybrid remote work environment can be very beneficial. Requiring your employees to work in the office won’t necessarily make them more productive. Consider allowing employees to work from home for three days of the week and work in the office for the other two. Of course, this is only relevant for employees that can work remotely. But if possible, it’s an excellent way to approach a return-to-work plan that inspires your employees to be confident in their return and perform to their highest ability. If you do decide to go with a hybrid remote work schedule it’s imperative that you communicate important dates such as meetings or days when they are expected to be in the office.
Reiterate Company Culture
It’s been shown that working from home has quite a positive effect on engagement and productivity. At the same time, having a large number of remote workers also tends to cause company culture to suffer. Without the interpersonal connections and buzz of an office environment, it can be difficult for employees to feel immersed and integrated the way they used to.
Company culture is critical for good retention and high performance. Returning to the office may feel strange when the company culture isn’t the same as it was. It’s up to leaders within a company to ensure that the culture is thriving from the get-go. This is even more critical if you’re going to allow a hybrid remote work environment. Rebuilding your culture is a vital step in a smooth transition back to the workplace. A good place to start is to set up small meetings throughout the workday that aren’t business-related. This can allow your employees to get to know each other all over again and feel comfortable in their work environment. Of course, ensure that proper COVID-19 safety precautions are followed and that they align with whatever safety measures you’re taking within the company.
It’s also a good idea to consider offering perks to the employees that do choose to return to the office regularly. But at the same time, make sure that those perks are extended to remote workers, too. Company culture requires that your team doesn’t feel divided between those who are still working from home those who have returned to the office. All employees should be invited to events, and if possible, try to have team meetings where everyone comes into the office to attend. Zoom meetings certainly served their purpose during the pandemic, but they aren’t quite as essential these days, and having your employees altogether in one room now and again is beneficial to the culture. You might even want to consider some team-building activities to help break the ice again. After all, most of us have been living in quarantine for almost a year.
Ensuring a flexible work environment strategy for employees who are returning to the office is a great way to empower them and get rid of any fears and hesitations surrounding COVID. Employees who are returning to work reluctantly, with little company culture and concern for their safety aren’t likely to be productive, engaged, or perform to their highest ability. All employees, whether entirely remote, partly remote, or completely in the office, should be looped in on plans and feel part of the company. Ensure a heavy focus on office culture and rebuilding your company back to what it was before everyone was in lockdown.