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As well as heading back to school, the beginning of this autumn period also saw ‘the great return to the office’. The first Monday in September this year was the busiest morning for London transport since March 2020. There is a clear movement for returning to work and some organisations are already witnessing a massive influx of employees. For some others, on the other hand, employees still aren’t being obligated to come in. Either way, we’re entering another new phase in the way we work.

Organisational wishes aside, there are also employees’ own preferences to consider. Certainly, there are plenty longing to be back in the social atmosphere of an office and to have that commute home to separate home and work life. But what about those who have got used to working from home and are still enjoying the different benefits this can bring? According to a recent study, 61% of employees in fact prefer working remotely full-time.

This, though, is only a snapshot of employee sentiments right now. Covid cases are still prevalent and rising again and for the moment, employees may still be being a little more cautious. As we near almost all adults being vaccinated this could change. Not to mention, for those employees heading back into the office now, the novelty of being back may wear off and they may want to go back to working more from home. Or vice versa, those working from home may start to feel they are missing out and wish to come into the office. In the coming months, there is going to be constant flux and organisations need to be prepared to create balance between the business needs and employee requirements.

Noting individual preference for collective success
Already the disparity of approaches for heading back to the office is being seen across different industries. Many civil servants and large financial services, for example, are not asking for employees to come in. However, it’s vital that organisations don’t simply follow what others are doing in their field, they need to do what is individually right for them, and most importantly, to listen to their employees. Only through taking employees’ thoughts and attitudes into account can organisations find a middle ground that works for both them and their employees – no one wants to be having to do a sudden U-turn such as the likes of Apple or Google.

Only through doing this can organisations ensure individual preferences are met for a happier, more engaged workforce and ultimately, aid the overall organisation. Still, there is no denying that this cocktail of working options will be difficult to handle.

Maintaining structure during uncertainty
The need to offer a plethora of possibilities to employees to suit all needs could easily lead to organisations allowing work processes and practices to fly out the window. While this is a good opportunity for a little experimentation, to do away with obsolete or outdated practices and bring in those that are more relevant and relatable, there still needs to be clear rules.

With this upcoming constant employee fluctuation, workplace practices are going to have to adapt quickly. To enable this, it is much quicker and easier if frameworks are in place and clear boundaries,  goals and objectives are set out. While some new processes will likely be brought in, having these guidelines and structures will quickly show whether these new practices will in fact help or hinder this new way of working, allowing organisations to quickly change tact.

Keeping everyone on the same page and connected
It also may not be appropriate to set a long-term strategy, so it’s important to consider a phased approach. An interim hybrid strategy could be an option for some organisations as a way to prioritise certain roles to return and identify those that need to continue to work from home. With this, it’s vital to establish a clear communication plan to share the thinking behind the interim plan, with a clear timeline of when this will be re-evaluated. And of course, managers must be given the right support and guidance when implementing this new way of working. That could be training on effective communication, performance management and team building in a hybrid environment.

More importantly, as well as ensuring that everyone is behind this intended approach and it is being correctly implemented, organisations need to be continuously asking for input and feedback on it. Is it working, does everyone feel that their particular needs and requirements are being met? With hybrid working meaning that each employees’ working experience will be different, organisations need to make sure that everyone feels included and listened to and that no one feels left out. It is human nature to crave belonging and with employees potentially still being here, there and everywhere, organisations must make everyone feel connected. To do this, it is worth considering training or establishing practices to ensure that there isn’t a divergence between those working predominantly in the office and those working predominately at home. For example, training in new collaboration tools, or setting a rule that all group meetings should be online by default.

Many may have believed that returning to the office, also marked more of a return to normal, but instead, all workplaces are facing yet more change and uncertainty still abounds. But it is those organisations with clear rules and guidelines, a true sense of purpose and striving to bring everyone together that will be able to navigate this next step and whatever new challenges it may bring.

    Alexandra Anders is an innovative HR leader and currently Senior Director of Talent at Cornerstone OnDemand. With over 10 years’ experience in a diverse range of industries, her particular expertise lies in the implementation of successful change management and performance management tools. She is passionate about diversity, inclusion, effective training, development and recruitment processes and also highly competent at implementing strategic HRM, with a focus

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