Many employees traded their formal work attire and long commute for comfy sweatpants, virtual meetings and homeschooling. Now social restrictions starten to loosen, bringing employees back to work isn’t as simple as flicking a switch.
Transitioning back to on-site work will be challenging and overwhelming for some, while others might be excited at the chance to have some normalcy back in their lives.
Here are some tips on what employers and managers can do to make the transition back to the physical workplace easier for their employees during the reboarding process.
Address physical and psychological safety in the workplace
While vaccines are being shipped across the globe, it will take some time before every employee gets immunized. Having pre-COVID occupancy levels on day one is not realistic — or safe. That’s why it’s important to provide a sense of security before your employees come back to the workspace. Explain which measurements are taken by your organization to ensure employee safety and how it changed the physical environment.
Providing your employees with personal hand sanitizer and disinfectant cleaning supplies can help them feel more comfortable as well. Being able to wipe down their working space and supplies as often as they like can ease their minds (and reduces the risk of contamination).
“It could also mean changes to the layout of the workspace, such as moving workstations farther apart or changing employee schedules to reduce the number of people in buildings at one time,” writes PwC.
See if you can invest in contactless operations or tools to make better use of the office, like a tool to book meeting rooms beforehand for a safer meeting culture and room utilization.
Consider a phased opening
Some organizations see a phased approach as an effective strategy. A phased approach promotes social distancing with occupancy limits and it reduces the risk of the worst case scenario in which a contagious employee returns to the office and passes the illness to others.
The tough part is determining who to bring back first. “Simply requiring everyone with a certain job title or role to return would be wrong because it doesn’t account for employees’ individual personalities and situations,” writes SHRM.
A research by Martec Group revealed four distinct employee segments and how they cope with working from home: thriving employees, hopeful employees, discouraged employees and trapped employees. Understanding each segment can help guide back-to-work decisions.
Consider a hybrid work model
When deciding whether to bring workers back, what’s right for one company will not be right for another, and the same goes for employees.
According a survey by FlexJobs, most remote workers don’t want to return to the office, at least not full time: 65% would prefer to work remotely full time post-pandemic, 31% would like a combination of remote and in-office work, and just 4% want to return to the traditional office full time, according to the survey.
Some companies will even keep remote working as the standard. Facebook, Zillow, Mastercard, Shopify and Twitter are among those that have committed to remote work for the long term. Therefore, consider allowing employees who are thriving while working from home to continue to do so (for now) and bring workers who are struggling back to the office, where they can collaborate and excel.
Or discuss with your employees if they prefer a hybrid work model: a mix of some days in the office and some at home to maximize productivity and employee satisfaction.
Don’t throw away your remote skills
As a manager, managing remote workers probably required learning new skills and habits to keep that long-distance relationship with your employees and keep your team productive. Whether through time management apps or daily task lists, using your new habits will have the same benefits in the office as they did while working remotely.
For example, overcommunicating was more important in your daily routine while working from home. This helped keep you and your team stay focused and responsible for work assignments. It's a great habit to continue when transitioning back to work; you can set daily meetings with your team to keep everyone on track and stay connected.
Although you’re back in the same space again, you cannot assume everyone’s on the same page (or that people will pop in if they need anything). Therefore, especially as a manager, keep doing your regular check-ins with your team to prevent misunderstandings and build trust, as you would have done working remotely.
Also keeping information accessible by writing it down, record videos of meetings or keynotes and share it in an easily accessible platform has become more important while working remote. Why not keep it this way? Ensuring your team’s conversations are organized and archived makes catching up easy for everyone.
Help your employees feel comfortable
Your employees need to leave behind the comforts of home again: having the coffee pot within arm’s reach, wearing sweats all day or playing loud music, and having total control over the thermostat, are no longer feasible.
To ease the transition, encourage your employees to make the office feel more familiar. Let them bring their favorite tea, a small plant or supply them with an ergonomic chair can help them feel a little more at home.
Respect each other's boundaries and breaks
For some employees working from home maximized their productivity. A study by Standford of 16,000 workers over 9 months found that working from home increased productivity by 13%. This increase in performance was due to more calls per minute attributed to a quieter more convenient working environment.
While for others, their family members, partners, or housemates are the no. 1 distractors while working from home, said 30% of workers in another survey by Menitmeter. This will also be a big shift to keep in mind when returning to the workspace: going from isolation to an office buzzing with activity and chatter again.
Therefore, consider allowing noise cancelling headphones at your employees’ desk to block out the office chatter when they need to concentrate. Or create dedicated ‘silent areas’ in the office or call rooms. Also, setting time on their calendar for heads-down focus can signal to others they are busy and cannot afford the interruption.
Remember, the daily commute, social interactions, and changes in the office environment, may be exhausting for your employees. Taking regular breaks while in the office can help clear the mind and keep from feeling overloaded as you transition from working remotely to working in the office again.
Get employee feedback to learn what works
Transitioning back to work is new for all of us. In order to make sure you are moving in the right direction, take feedback from your employees to see what’s working and help identify potential problems in your reboarding process that require improvement. Surveys enable you to learn about the experience of your employees with the transition back to work.
As PwC puts it, “By enabling real, two-way communication, leaders may turn the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity to strengthen corporate culture, increase employee engagement and boost productivity and loyalty over the long run.”
Reboarding is not one-size-fits-all
The actual reopening of the workplace will look different for every company, but make sure as an employer you guide your employees into a physically and mentally safe space. Keep in mind that each individual employee’s situation is different. The transition back to work may be positive for some and negative for others.
Work closely with your employees to determine what your organization's future will look like, and remain agile to adapt new policies if necessary. Especially during these unprecedented times it's more important than ever to embrace an employee-first mindset and to promote an environment of productivity, empowerment, and health.
Looking for a digital platform to guide your remote workforce back to the office? Check out the benefits of our reboarding app!