Returning to Work – Preparing Your Staff for the Inevitable

When companies rapidly shifted to remote work in March 2020, employers were reacting. The pandemic was upon them, and they needed to find a solution – fast. Today, as we try to restore a semblance of what was, we need to be more proactive in our approach and think more strategically.

Expect push back
Remote work has been successful for the most part, but it won’t be a long-term solution for all companies or for all departments. Eventually, there will be a recall back to the office and don’t be surprised if there is pushback. An early 2021 study found that 29% of workers surveyed said they would consider leaving their positions before going back to an office environment full-time. So how do we retain the staff we’ve invested in?

Address concerns
Don’t ignore the anxieties of your workers. There is a natural reluctance for employees to leave their homes. It’s their safe space. It’s known and comfortable. Be sure to acknowledge that there will be a transition and be clear about how you’re addressing their needs, both mentally and physically. Give workers an opportunity to openly express their concerns without fear of consequence or retribution. Transparency is key to earn trust. Consider electing a peer task force to help with the reintroduction process, so there is buy-in across the board. The physical space in which they are going to be working is also of concern. Before you make a large investment in infrastructure, take a survey of how staff prefer to work and consider adaptable workspaces that can be easily cleaned and sanitized vs. impersonal partitions and barriers.

Communicate each step again and again
Treat the return to on-site work as an onboarding and orientation process for the entire organization. You are re-orienting your entire workforce to a new way of doing things, so make sure to overcommunicate policies, procedures and expectations through every available channel. Send printed materials to their homes, start a transition-centric employee newsletter that has a positive message and reinforces your appreciation of their commitment, and have managers check in regularly with staff.

Re-examine expectations
Employees have gotten used to the luxury of time and money saved by commuting mere feet rather than miles. You may need to incentivize them with additional benefits to smooth out the transition, putting an emphasis on the whole person, and addressing the need for mental and physical safety and wellness. Free beverages and snacks, discounted transportation or parking, mental health services, and other health-focused options help to feed the employees’ souls.

This isn’t a return to normal. That world no longer exists. It’s important to recognize that you as a leader have changed and the people you manage have changed. It’s okay to have a fluid approach to returning to work and admit that you don’t have all the answers. It’s going to take some adjustment and time to get to know one another again.

If you need assistance, we’re here to help with one of our Return to Work: Strategies to Reunite, Refocus and Re-engage Employees packages or if you feel you might need a more customized experience reach out and I’m sure we can find a solution that right for you.