Tips for a smooth transition back to the office
The time has come. After almost a year and a half of working from home, employers across the country are finally starting bringing their workers back into the office. While this may be a reassurance to some that ‘normal’ life is returning, a survey by CV Library has revealed that over 55% of British working professionals are anxious about returning to work. Reasons given for this include health anxiety about COVID-19 and returning to a lengthy daily commute to and from the office: however, as an employer, there are a number of ways you can help relieve your employees of these worries. Here are a few tips that can help you prepare and execute a smooth transition back to working in the office.
Communicate effectively and be transparent
Depending on the size of your organization, sending out company-wide communications can be a huge task, especially when it concerns a huge update to working practises. Many employees will have questions to ask about the return to the office, so make sure that they know who they go to for these.
Your workforce will want to know what measures you have taken to make them feel safe and comfortable returning to the office, and will need sufficient time to prepare for the change, for example by making childcare arrangements. Open communication and transparency from all sides is extremely important, as we have previously discussed on our blog, so make sure to encourage this every step of the way.
Consider a hybrid working model
According to a recent report from the Office for National Statistics, 85% of workers who have worked from home in the last year want to continue following a ‘hybrid’ working approach, which involves dividing the working week between home and the office. Some employees may have caring commitments or a lengthy commute which makes working from home easier, and others may wish to make a gradual transition back to being in the office full-time. Whatever their reasons, you should be sensitive to their needs when putting together your transition strategy.
However, you should also evaluate your business needs when making the decision about whether to accomodate a hybrid working model. Look at the information you have about productivity levels among your employees, which will give you insight into the impact that working from home may have had on your company – but considering how popular a remote working option is, even if only for part of the week, you should encourage this if possible.
Talk to employees about individual re-entry plans
Your transition strategy should not be a one-size-fits-all approach. Some of your workers may have health issues or other commitments that would make full-time office work extremely difficult, if not impossible, as we slowly make our way out of the pandemic. This is why you should accommodate individual re-entry plans, which will allow workers to return to the office at their own pace.
Strong, open communication is especially important here. Your employees will greatly appreciate being listened to and having their needs met, which is essential to building trust and healthy work relationships. Additionally, you should bear in mind that plans can change. Make sure to regularly check in with your employees and see if anything needs to be adapted to ensure their continued wellbeing and productivity, whether they’re returning to the office right away or not.
Allow time for adjustment
This applies to both your employees and your company. It took time to adjust to working from home, and the same will apply when returning to the office. It may be worth having test runs of your transition strategy, for example having a few employees following a hybrid work pattern, so both your business and your workforce can figure out what works best.
It’s important to be patient throughout this process, and to manage your expectations. Any markers or metric you use to measure success and productivity should probably be re-examined during this time, as the desire to maintain a strong work performance while going through this transition can cause undue stress to your workers. Giving your employees the time and space to get used to things will go a long way in maintaining morale and wellbeing, which in turn will improve the success of your transition plan.
Make sure safety information is readily accessible
The most pressing questions your colleagues will have will probably be about what kind of measures are being put in place to keep them safe in these (hopefully) final months of the pandemic. Some may have health issues that make them immunocompromised, or they may live with young children, so if you are expecting them to be present in the office then you should not only make sure the workplace is best prepared to safeguard their health, but also that they know how to access this safety information for themselves.
This is also an opportunity to review existing protocols, and to collaborate with your employees to find out what they want to see in the workplace. For example, will you encourage wearing of face coverings in communal areas? Will cleaning occur more regularly? What is the procedure for if an employee tests positive for COVID-19 after spending time in the office? Make sure this information is prepared well in advance, so you can answer questions quickly and help alleviate any worries your employees may have about returning to work as soon as possible.
Be flexible in your transition plan
If you can, you should avoid asking your employees to participate in a full and immediate return to the office. As earlier discussed, many of them may have reasons why this may not be possible for them, and if you don’t allow for any kind of flexibility then you could potentially lose a number of talented and highly-skilled colleagues.
Make sure to invest the time and resources into developing a strong transition plan that supports the needs of your business and of your colleagues, but also keep in mind that a couple of adjustments will probably need to occur along the way. As long as you maintain open communication and honesty, your colleagues will appreciate the effort and will remember your strong leadership for years to come.
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