As the Government suggest businesses return to the office, to encourage the economy to get moving again, what key considerations need to be put in place by an employer to ensure a successful return for staff?
Returning to the office could well be welcomed news for staff who are desperate to return to a sense of normality, or a shock to the system for others who have settled into life working remotely.
But as the Government suggests returning to the office only if safe to do so, this will mean a disparate workforce as some employees will choose to return, whilst others continue to remote work, and many remain on furlough.
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Building a people focused framework
Having a workforce be located in the office brings many business benefits such as, comradery, connection, collaboration and belongingness. But for the people, it can bring feelings of apprehension and anxiety, especially after living through a global pandemic.
Businesses are required to follow government guidelines and set out a framework for employees return to work, informing them of what changes to expect to see when they return. This includes the physical changes to the working environment and how health and safety is reviewed via a risk assessment.
But what approach is taken to ensure the mental and emotional affects from employees, are considered? By building a people focussed consultative framework, will ensure staff feel comfortable and happy with the space they are in.
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Caterina George, CR Worldwide HR and Facilities Manager, shares 10 ways to manage employees returning to the office, based on her experience of implementing this for our own business:
- Have a dedicated resource or team to champion the project. Being people focused was key for us as an organisation, so the project was led by HR and Facilities.
- Start the process early. Depending on the size of the workforce and office space, making the appropriate changes could be time consuming, especially when being people focused. So, talk to staff as early as possible about the opportunities to return to the workplace.
- Put people’s concerns at the heart of it, to help create a plan that is in line with your company culture and that employees are more likely to adopt as they are comfortable with the response. Introduce an online survey, to capture any issues and help build resolutions for.
- Listen and discuss throughout your assessment of risks and planning process – take people on the journey with you so that they are informed, consulted and involved in the decision making. Make all documentation like risk assessments, visible to reviewed and fed back on.
- Consider how much choice and flexibility you can give people. To reduce employee stress and anxiety around personal circumstances such as childcare/ home-schooling / personal health / being a carer etc, by being accommodating to their situation will ease worries.
- Don’t rush people or apply pressure for the need to be in the office. Hopefully, remote working has worked successfully, and it can continue to do so. Provide a phased return that offers staff an opportunity to resume at a pace and a date, that is comfortable for each individual.
- Put a personal stamp on it. There’s lots of guidelines around how to implement social distancing within the office to ensure effective hygiene, but you can still use this as an opportunity to reinforce employer brand practices. For example, through personalised signage or personal touches such as individual employee welcome back desk packs (branded sanitiser bottles and wipes).
- Welcome back orientation. On the day staff return, it’s useful to provide a guided tour of the office space to inform them of the changes made, highlight new polices they need to adopt and provide useful reminders. This will help to reintroduce them to their environment quicker.
- Listen and adapt. Keep asking for feedback from employees once the office is populated, so that any nuances that aren’t working as you expected can be changed, without causing a negative affect or being escalated into a bigger issue than needs to be.
- Continue the communication. For those employees who have chosen not to return to work just yet, continue to communicate the atmosphere and environment, so they feel educated (not pressured) to make an informed decision on their return, when it’s appropriate for them. Maybe hold a Q&A style panel discussion within a virtual company update session, to give them a chance to ask questions to the people who are experiencing being in the office first-hand.