As non-essential shops, gyms and pubs reopen and the light at the end of the lockdown tunnel gets a little brighter, now is the time to consider whether your plans to return to the office are comprehensive enough.
Although there has been no official date issued for workers returning to the office yet, it is important for organisations to be fully prepared once any government announcements are made. Here are Starford’s top ten tips for a smooth transition.
Start thinking about your Return To The Workplace strategy sooner rather than later
The last few months have been particularly overwhelming and many managers have been keeping their heads down trying to keep the day-to-day operations going, but leadership teams need to start putting plans in place that will balance the needs of the business with employee wellbeing.
Accept that it won’t be ‘back to normal’ from day one
Every company has been through enormous upheaval over the last 12 months so it would be naive to think the office could return to normal immediately. From phased returns of staff members to the introduction of new risk assessments, consider what day one may look like for your business and how that could evolve into a ‘new normal’ long-term.
Assess what has changed over the last 12 months
Some of your organisation’s processes or policies may have changed over the last 12 months as we all adapted to a more virtual way of working. HR and Operations leaders will need to assess which policies will stay and which new ones may be required once workers return to the office. Staff will also need an introduction to these redefined ways of working before they come back to the office.
Clear communication is key
Be open about job losses. If parts of the business have had to make cuts and others not then let people know – there is nothing worse for staff than thinking ‘I haven’t seen X for a while’ only to later find out on the grapevine that they were made redundant. Clear and regular updates from head office will help employees feel supported during these uncertain times.
Consider which staff may need a ‘re-induction’
Staff who were relatively new before the pandemic or those joined during lockdown might benefit from having their induction to the company again, but this time in person. Employees who have been furloughed for a significant period of time may also benefit from a refresher to embed them back into the business.
The grand tour
Employees who joined your company in 2020 might have a decent amount of experience ‘on the job’ but not actually know much about the building, including who does what, where everything is kept and how things are run operationally. A ‘welcome back’ building tour as part of inductions is a suitable solution to this, but also consider that other longer-serving members of staff will also need familiarising with any new risk assessments and processes that have been put in place as a result of the pandemic.
Nurture those who have started their career during a global pandemic
Back in March 2020, many of us knew Covid was serious but thought it would only last a few months at most. This was also the case for many young people who did not envision their first year in employment to be one of Zoom calls and remote working. HR leaders should not underestimate how difficult the pandemic has been for those joining the workforce for the first time, and take extra steps to ensure they feel nurtured in their development once they are welcomed into the office.
Organise team building/ team gathering opportunities
Some people may not have seen each other for over a year, so perhaps arrange a coffee morning or similar team gathering where staff can catch up and enjoy socialising with one another again. Where company-wide gatherings are not possible, consider smaller interactions such as the ‘coffee roulette’ initiative brought to our attention by one business we work with. Individuals can volunteer to put their name in a hat and get randomly allocated a partner to schedule a coffee catch-up. We think this is a great way for staff to get to know one another outside of the usual work projects, and extremely helpful for new starters looking to meet new people in the organisation. Another Starford client plans to have their first day back as a ‘non working day’, setting up a clear expectation that staff should enjoy spending the day catching up with each other rather than feeling daunted about getting straight back to work in the office environment.
Don’t underestimate staff anxiety about coming back
While some can’t wait to get back to the buzz of a busy office environment, other people may be worried about seeing and coming into contact with others. Some may even harbour anxieties around potential job losses if they have not had regular feedback about their performance during the pandemic. They may worry about how they are doing and what the expectations will be of them moving forward. If they have been furloughed they may also be worried about how much they have forgotten and whether they are taking too long to ‘get back up to speed’. Ask your teams before they come back if there is anything they are anxious about or anything they particularly want to discuss.
Be prepared for and open to flexible working requests
Many people will want flexible working to become a permanent part of their role having worked from home for the past year. Whether your company intends to have staff back in the office five days a week, adopt a flexible 3 days at the office / 2 days at home approach, or plan to make working from home a permanent position, be sure to get feedback from your employees about these potential changes and understand how it could impact people individually.