Courtesy of Jill Chapman, Insperity
As the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic wane, more business leaders are demanding employees return to the office to maintain corporate culture and improve employee morale. Despite the tremendous change in workplace models with the addition of remote and hybrid work flexibility, some leaders believe physical presence in the workplace fosters innovation and increases engagement. While each industry and individual business has its specific needs and nuances surrounding the return to in-person work, it is prudent for all employers to consider their people first before implementing a return-to-work policy.
Remote and hybrid work models have become the norm in most industries. A recent Pew survey reveals that 76% of employees with access to a workplace prefer to telework most or all of the time. However, with a competitive and shrinking workforce, a jobseekers’ market, and the surging cost of living, organizations must approach their return-to-work strategy with care, especially if they want to attract top talent and enhance the employee experience.
Leaders looking to engage employees and encourage a return to the office should consider the following.
Create an Open Culture
A return-to-work strategy’s success depends on total team agreement, from the top down. The communication surrounding a return-to-work strategy begins well before implementing a plan through transparent, regular two-way conversations.
Creating a more transparent and communicative workplace culture is a continual process and requires participation from all levels of the workplace. However, when leaders start with communication basics and engage employees in decision-making, it exhibits care, builds employee trust, and increases employee morale. In addition, leaders who take the time to cultivate a healthy and open culture can expect a smoother transition when they change workplace policies.
Give Workers a Valid ‘Why’
The office as we knew it has likely changed forever, and employers must articulate what is missing at home and what can be gained from being back in the office. Remote working has proven to improve individuals’ quality of life and group productivity. Coming into the office to sit in on virtual meetings is just not a compelling reason to come back to work. Therefore, the reasons behind the return to the office should be practical and communicated by leadership clearly and consistently, aligning with the company’s mission and values statements. Employers that present a reasonable and valid business case when requesting employees return to the office, taking into consideration the reaction of their employees, may prevent discontent.
As employees may feel the company does not value or trust them to fulfill their role away from managerial supervision, employers should consider how in-office work will help them further succeed in their roles and build a solid case for it. Leaders need to know precisely why they are asking employees to return to the office and the benefits it will have on the company and their colleagues. Employers should also consider providing teams with the knowledge, skills, and tools needed to develop their in-person working norms. With this intention, there is less confusion about the company’s purpose and a clear definition of employees’ critical role in the business’s success.
Boost Communication and Show Flexibility
When company leaders do not effectively communicate, employees may grow more anxious about their return to the office. Yet while employees need clear leadership and direction, employers must remain flexible and adaptable if they wish to increase employee buy-in.
The pandemic taught business leaders that compassion and flexibility are vital to the success of their employees and, consequently, their company. As leaders share their decision about returning to the office, it is crucial to be upfront and honest about the expectations and the unknowns. For the most part, the worst of the pandemic may be over, but employees are still trying to balance work and personal responsibilities such as child care and school quarantines. An in-person work environment may add unnecessary stress and cause early employee burnout.
Astute leaders understand the importance of listening to employees during the decision-making process and finding solutions that balance the needs of their employees and those of the business. For example, child care during the summer may be challenging for some employees; therefore, employers should review childcare credits that benefit their employees. Additionally, employers may want to look at flexible work schedules that provide commuting relief for employees. When leaders exercise empathy, display authenticity, and actively listen to the needs of their workers, changes are often easier to accept.
In a flexible work era, employers that nurture an open culture, remain flexible, and focus on how people work rather than where will experience a smoother transition as employees better understand the many benefits of sharing a physical workplace once again.
Jill Chapman is a senior performance consultant with Insperity, a provider of human resources offering the most comprehensive suite of scalable HR solutions available in the marketplace. For more information about Insperity, call 800-465-3800 or visit www.insperity.com.