Leaders can now take steps to make employees feel supported and secure before they start working within them.
With more and more people being vaccinated against COVID-19, leaders and staff are beginning to look forward to back office. Many organizations are considering a hybrid performance model, in which teams enter the office a few days a week or a few important days a month. For workers who feel isolated and traumatized during the epidemic, returning to work will be fun. For those who have taken remote jobs or have a delayed health problem, it will be stressful. For many, it will be both. Simply put, returning to the office will be emotional.
As a leader, your role is to give your people as much confidence in the future as possible. And while no one really knows what the world will look like six months from now, there are a few steps you can take today to make your people feel supported and secure before they finally return to work.
Make it clear. Don't wait to express your thoughts, even if you have limited information to share. For example, go on to say, "We will definitely work from home to July and we are considering switching to a work model after that." Uncertainty breeds anxiety, and saying something better than keeping quiet. Even if you are not able to give a specific answer yet, your teams will feel comforted knowing that you are not ignoring the problem.
When questions arise, answer as honestly as you can. And if you already have a plan, be sure to fill in all the details so that they can communicate clearly and confidently with their teams. Remember: The purpose of openness is to gain trust and reduce unnecessary stress. To support your people, start by gaining a better understanding of where they are. Getting preferences and concerns early can help you pull over rather than put your teams back in the office. (After last year, it would be almost impossible to apply the excuse that your organization is not set up for remote work and that people need to return to office.)
You can submit a survey with questions such as:
How many days a week would you like to work?
What will make returning to the office easier for you?
Are there any circumstances that you are willing to participate in that would make returning to office more difficult or intimidating?
What kinds of work would you like to do in the office - for example, staff meetings, new team meetings, reflection sessions, etc.
What types of work would you like to do at home?
Make sure you share research results. If you want employees to be in office five days a week, and research shows that employees want to be in office two days a week, it is a bad move to simply ignore that information. Instead, use it as a platform to skip honest conversations and productive compromises. Involve human resource groups in those discussions to make sure that any plans you put in place meet the needs of all your employees.
Discuss expectations. Since when you work it is not so important, when you work it will take the first step. As part of your hybrid work plan, come up with a list of communication practices that will support productivity and prevent burnout.
If you work from home, it is very easy to keep… working, all the time. By 2020, Microsoft found that the number of messages sent by its employees after normal working hours had doubled, and that less active people on the Saturday and Sunday before COVID-19 saw their work weekend. Not surprisingly, 71% of experienced employees experienced burnout last year.
Sample procedures may include the following:
Every meeting will have a video link to ensure that remote group members can join.
At all the hand-held conventions where some people will be in the office and others at a distance, everyone will still call each other their computers so that those who are far away will not feel left out.
Everyone, whether in the office or not, will be expected to be online (within reason) within the allotted hours of normal working hours (for example, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. PST) in order to have some contact with all colleagues.
Everyone will share what they do for the week via group email or Slack thread.
Leaders will call meetings from home at least one day a week to make it easier to work remotely.
Involve your people. A fresh start is an opportunity to think about what the workspace looks like, so make this planning process a creative one. Try to divide employees into smaller focus groups to generate ideas on how to best use your office space and personal time. Bringing your people into conversation can help come up with better ways to work out, tear down the silos that were built last year, and make everyone more excited about the opportunities to meet again in the office again.
Highlight what your teams will achieve in person time. In a study conducted in late 2020, PwC found that more than half of employees chose to work from home three days a week or more. Chances are that not all of your people will be happy to return to the office, especially if you ask them to come in more than a few days a week.
Instead of demanding that your groups be ready to return to work, focus on highlighting the benefits of meeting together. If there have been any pre-COVID-19 cultural events or celebrations enjoyed by the people, share a plan on how to start it again when everyone is reunited. Your people may also be experiencing some frustration regarding digital communication or feel alone at times. Remind them that face-to-face contact addresses both of them. According to the results of the PwC study, about 90% of employees said that team interaction and relationship building was very easy in person.
Present change as a temptation. People are resistant to change. Although many people are looking forward to returning to office, there will still be concerns about change - especially if the details of the change will not be complete at first. To alleviate people's worries, circle back to the offices as a retaliatory process: Tell them that your organization will try Version 1 of the integrated job setup at the beginning and reduce it depending on the job response. This will help people to see that it does not have to be perfect in the first place.
While returning to office may be a long way off for your organization, most of your people may already be thinking about it. By taking the above steps now, you can help employees feel more confident about the future, happy to communicate with their colleagues, and supported by their leadership team.