A Return to the Office Strategy Every Business Should Consider
It’s not often in business that we can guarantee there will be a marked shift in company culture. However, 2020 not only forced businesses to adjust, society at large changed. The abundant change has taken many forms and we're likely to see more of it as we move forward.
From a people perspective, as offices open again, human resources and business leaders must also open their minds to new strategies that work to ensure that employees not only remain engaged and productive, but also feel safe in all ways — both from a physical and psychological standpoint. This is the case for employees planning to work in the physical office and those working in a hybrid capacity.
Keep in mind, employees were already stressed out before disruption hit. According to a 2019 study by The American Institute of Stress, 83% of workers suffered from work-related stress. An increase in workload and fears around job security were the leading causes of workplace stress. Imagine what those numbers are now, post-pandemic.
So, what are some ways employers can help? How can employers make the moments that matter along the employee journey positive experiences for everyone?
The Importance of Reboarding
Getting everyone back on track post-disruption starts with having a reboarding plan in place for office workers and hybrid workers alike.
Typically, we think of onboarding as something that occurs at the very beginning of employment. While that is certainly important, forward-thinking companies view onboarding as a strategic process and a continuous cycle that is leveraged to ensure the employee experience is always up to par.
Keeping that experience up to par is where reboarding comes in. It’s an intentional, people-centered approach to bringing back employees to the physical office environment after some time away. It’s a way to reintroduce them to new policies, procedures and any other changes that might have occurred. It’s an important touchpoint along the employee journey, and stands out as a pivotal moment that matters, considering the disruption we have lived through.
Haphazardly asking employees to return to an office environment that looks much different from the one they left is not the way to ensure a good employee experience. In fact, not all employees may be enthusiastic about returning to the office. One survey conducted by Morning Consult found that about 69% of current remote workers say they would feel comfortable returning to the office, but only 61% would like to return to the office as soon as it is safe.
Communicate Openly and Plan Deliberately
What should leaders do? Deliberately planning a phased and comfortable return to the office will help ensure less stress and reluctance with employees who might still be feeling uneasy about returning to the physical office. The fact that companies likely know well in advance when the return date will be allows for human resources and business leaders to plan for reboarding in a very deliberate and thoughtful way.
To improve the workplace, now is a great time to reflect on things that worked well and didn’t work so well throughout the pandemic disruption. To achieve the best results, look at this from a number of different perspectives. For example, consider things that resonated with your workforce while working remotely or in a hybrid environment. Is there anything that worked virtually that can be replicated upon returning to the physical office?
Also recognize that an influx of once-remote workers coming back to the office might increase stress levels for employees who have been there all along. Their once-sparse space might suddenly become much more crowded. One way to confront this problem before it happens is to intentionally communicate with employees on all levels of the organization to gather relevant data, then include the results of the data to inform decisions and messaging in reboarding plans.
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Having a plan will be vital to ensure reboarding starts off well. Leaders have many processes to focus on when creating a reboarding plan, but among the most important are awareness surrounding new policies and procedures, the layout of the office, use of technology, meeting spaces, measures to ensure safety during meetings, and the new nature of employee interactions. These changes will be unique for each business and will vary among industries, but the sentiment remains the same: employees must be made aware of and embrace new changes in the physical office space to ensure success.
Don’t limit your communications to what has changed, either. Think about what isn’t going to change that employees may question. For example, they may ask: why aren’t desks socially distanced? Why won’t there be one-way traffic? Odds are there’s a good reason for decisions the company makes, so be open and honest about it.
Related Article: What the Post-COVID-19 Workplace Will Look Like
Demand More From HR Technology
Let’s not forget the importance of technology in reboarding plans. Choosing your tech options for people and payroll processes randomly will not serve the reboarding plan well. Having an intentionally and thoughtfully implemented HR tech suite that puts people first and is easy to use across platforms will ensure that employees know they have the tools they need for success during reboarding and beyond. It also allows HR teams to benefit from advancements in technology, like sentiment analysis, to read between the lines of what employees say and understand how attitudes may evolve over time. Having this firmly in place helps ensure a positive employee experience, as well as a positive life-work journey.
Ensuring that employees have the physical and digital tools they need to be successful in their jobs is among the most important parts of promoting efficiency in the workplace. Have you seen production decrease? Has turnover increased or engagement dropped? This could be an issue where employees might lack resources to do their job properly. Setting up employees to fail at their job by not ensuring that they have what they need to succeed can have dire outcomes for the business. Luckily there are tools to help. For example, pulse surveys can help leaders understand how things are going and can help inform organizational decisions using real-time data and employee feedback.
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Make the Unpredictable More Predictable
Proper reboarding strategies are an important aspect to maintaining and ensuring efficiency in the workplace through a people-first strategy. Change is hard, and not everyone deals with it well. The past months have brought incredible change and unique working circumstances, but ultimately, engaged employees will get the job done better than those who feel disconnected, confused and anxious. Taking the time to work on improving engagement rather than simply ensuring engagement will help employees working on premises, remotely and in a hybrid fashion know that the company cares about their sentiments regarding unpredictable working conditions.
A good reboarding plan will help.
About the Author
Julie is a Sr. Partner, HCM Advisory for UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group), and an adjunct professor and co-coordinator of the HRM graduate program at McDaniel College, a school from which she also holds a master’s degree in HRD.