Businesses have spent months preparing for the return to the office which is now upon us. However excited some feel, there is groundswell that many are reluctant to give up the safety and flexibility that they experienced working from home. So, how can you lead an inspiring return to the office?

As life starts to feel more normal again and people globally start to return to the office more regularly, employers have the difficult task of deciding what the workspace should look like and how to make it an appealing proposition.

The fact is, the boundaries between work and home have blurred. Employees have grown used to the ‘WFH’ model and there’s resistance to give it up. On top of that, anxieties about the virus remain prominent for many and all this adds up to a reluctance to get back to the office.

Many of the changes we saw in how businesses operated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic are here to stay. Now, the question arises on how to keep employees motivated and safe whilst finding a new operational model which is fit for the future.

This challenge will require responsiveness to employee sentiment, good planning and thoughtful execution, done well, it’s a real opportunity to shape what’s next.

 

Embracing change: 6 steps to a successful return to workReturn to work guide

As businesses across the UK and Ireland prepare to welcome back employees, employers are questioning how they can successfully create a safe, smooth and flexible return to work, for all.

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Provide guidance on working safely

If there’s one thing on everybody’s mind since the coronavirus outbreak, it’s health and safety. A fearful workforce is an unhappy one, and the only way to prevent the spread of the virus and to soothe the worries surrounding it, is to make sure rigorous safety measures are in place - and crucially - to let your team know about them.

What these measures look like will vary from office to office. Most businesses are opting for a hybrid model to safely return to work, which might mean split schedules and ‘working bubbles’ to allow for social distancing - which which will also have an impact in the workplace strategy and design.

When employees are back in the office, regular home testing and temperature checks are becoming commonplace procedures. Adopting routines for everyone to follow not only helps to maintain safety standards but also promotes a sense of togetherness.

Respect the transition period 

two co-workers talking

The reality is that bringing the whole workforce back to the office at once is challenging, if not impossible. Aside from the logistical chaos, it would involve, it’s wise to allow time and space for employees to re-adjust to office working environments.

For the vast majority, a phased return approach makes sense. Allowing sub-teams or individuals to partially work from home during the transition back to the office will help to ease inevitable friction while you establish your unique model for the long term.

Parents are likely to be keen to return to work, but also to find the transition more difficult. Having a support system in place will make that change less difficult for them. Some companies are offering concierge services or introducing parent-specific policies to allow more flexibility.

It’s also worth thinking about new recruits who have never stepped foot into your workplace. If they have been remote workers from the beginning of their employment, due to restrictions, going ‘back to the office' won’t apply. Onboarding employees old and new will help to lay a solid foundation from day one.

Embrace hybrid and remain flexible 

The pandemic was a catalyst for new ways of working, as increased flexibility in regard to working location and hours was already part of the corporate landscape in 2019. Whilst some employers had previously been slow to evolve their working practices, the changes we have now experienced demonstrated that new models can work. The next challenge for employers is to balance employer and employee needs and desires, with the cost and complexity of various choices available.  

Now is the time to assess employee sentiment and establish some ground rules, even if you may need to change them down the line. A successful return to work is a planned one, and employers can set out expectations about when employees can work remotely and when they should be back to the office to collaborate.

Of course, there is no blueprint for this. Remote working schedules will largely depend on job roles, distance from the office and workloads. Creating a Remote Working Policy will help to set a standard, but you should also be prepared to consider individual circumstances on a case-by-case basis. You may want to consider keeping pregnant employees, clinically vulnerable people or parents as remote works whenever necessary to reduce the risk while ensuring their health safety (and for the peace of mind of the team).

Again, this is a time of opportunity. Companies have a chance here to nurture a workplace culture that transcends physical space and works remotely and in person all at once.

Nurture your team with training and mentorship 

It’s no surprise that employees with a mentorship programme are happier in their jobs. Having initiatives in place will not only boost morale and job satisfaction but will also help to attract and retain talent in the long term.

Particularly for younger generations, learning opportunities and personal development are a top priority and will factor highly when looking for a job. Programmes which pair up juniors and more experienced staff, as well as regular company-wide training sessions, will encourage in-person interaction and is a reason to get the whole team back together. In other words, people management is more and more important in the era of the 'new normal'.

Personal development was amongst the first areas to have experienced cutbacks during the pandemic. However, if you’re asking yourself how to motivate your employees in the workplace, then the value of these programmes is worth re-evaluating for prioritisation.

Find new ways to connect

team having lunch

Remote working has its perks, but one major drawback is the barrier it creates when it comes to communication and in-person connection. 

What did we all miss most during lockdown? Human interaction. We need each other - family, friends and colleagues alike. It’s therefore natural to crave in-person catch-ups, casual conversations and the communal energy of the office.

When the whole team was in the office every day, it was much easier to build personal relationships and have spontaneous conversations with colleagues. Now, going back to work with varied schedules and altered office layouts, employers will need to find creative ways to help everyone to reconnect through collaboration, events and even food services and keep employees engaged in a hybrid work model.

‘Team-building activities’ feels vague, but it’s a phrase that has stuck for a reason. Activities with a common goal let employees see the impact of collective effort. Put simply, out of work events will have an all-important place in bringing teams back together. 

Finally, have patience 

Return to work guide

Above all, remember we’re all human. Listen to your employees, be patient in figuring out solutions and be patient and kind throughout the process. Together, you and your team can have a successful return to work.

This year, Sodexo set out to be true partners to our clients and assist transformation. We find solutions that connect teams, optimise performance and create thriving work environments, whatever they might be.

Download our guide to uncover how to achieve a greater balance in the workplace and a successful return to the office.

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September 13, 2021