Transitioning Employees Back to the Office: What Companies need to Consider
by Shannon Long, Consultant at Change Guides
The Covid pandemic has changed the landscape of the way we do business. Overnight, companies and their employees were thrust into a new way of working without much guidance. Just as companies were getting used to a new normal, many organizations are looking to transition people back to the office. And, now in the last few weeks companies are starting to push back and some employers are moving forward return to work dates.
Thus, many employees are getting mixed messages. Companies are giving “back-to-office” start dates and then constantly changing the message.
Change is hard but change with no warning or planning can be even more difficult. Many employees have become accustomed to working remotely. To create successful change, employers need to understand that people are going back to a different kind of office, and they must be prepared.
Be Aware of the Pros and Cons
The roadblocks in the past that kept companies from allowing people to work from home have shown that people are adaptable. And many employees have proven that they can get their jobs done quite successfully remotely. Some companies also saw residual benefits from lower overhead costs, to a more productive workforce, as people did not have to commute and were often able to have flexibility in their workday. People have gotten comfortable to the new norm, and many people have adjusted their lives to work from home. Employers need to be conscious of how their employees will be affected overall. Yet there are pros for being in the office. Our human need to interact with others and the social component and camaraderie that helps make people and teams successful is lacking. There is something to be said about human connection.
Importance of Employee Engagement
Now, as companies are bringing back employees to the office in a post covid world, it is important to keep employees engaged in the process. One of the most compelling components of change management is answering the “why” or “what’s in it for me”
People don’t resist change; they resist being changed. It is more important than ever to empower people through the transition of going back to the office. Leaders and decision makers need to encourage employees to part of the decision-making process. People do not buy into information and processes that they do not understand. By creating a vision of what people can expect in the near and long term, frequent check ins, being transparent and providing clear messages throughout the process can make a world of difference during the transition back to work.
Employers must remember that employees will have varying levels of comfort and take that into consideration. Having a transition plan in place is key. Employees will be concerned with everything from their own health, whether those around them have been vaccinated, whether they will have to wear a mask, maintaining social distancing, entry and exit procedures and processes around when people should stay out of the office, etc.
At the end of the day, some people may decide that they do not want to return to the office. HR departments will have to have consistency in communication and messaging to employees and what their options or consequences of not returning are. Giving people as many options as possible about when and how they come back to work is important.
Be Empathetic to Employees Needs
People want to know that their voices are heard and that their employers care. Beyond understanding of new processes, plans, protocols, or the bottom line, people want to feel that their emotional and physical wellbeing, and values and needs are being considered. Giving people a voice and a platform and making them feel that are part of the process in creating the solutions. It is easy to make rules and point to state and federal guidelines and protocols. But, making employees a part of the how will only lead to positive changes and a happier workforce. Making sure that communications are consistent and being delivered with empathy and compassion can lead to successful change and sustainability.
Motivation to Change
People change when they are motivated to change. People are motivated by their connections to others. Companies need to give thought to what will motivate their employees to buy-in and act in new ways. Their will likely be good corporate citizens that do their best to follow requirements, but the way to get people committed and motivated is through their connection to others. Connect people’s understanding of how new protocols contribute to a colleague’s wellbeing or a teammate’s family’s health. Often people are motivated by hearing other people’s personal stories. Covid has affected us all in very different ways and yet we can all find relatable commonalities. Successful change often happens organically by leveraging those personal stories.
Organizations will need to address remote and hybrid expectations to retain and recruit new and top talent. The post covid world has forced companies to take a greater look at their company culture. The way companies lead in this new business landscape will both reflect and mirror company culture. Many companies have already been making the change from hierarchal to flatter organizations in recent years and being aware of how covid has affected businesses can demonstrate the value of their employees. The choices leadership make post pandemic can change the long-term influence of the company’s culture. Adopting a strong change management model will help create sustainability moving forward as companies create operational changes, changes to organizational culture, technology, policies, and procedures. Leadership must recognize the changes that people may come back to. Reconnecting with colleagues and key partners on a new level and working with new team members that were hired during the pandemic.
Managing change in the current world can be challenging. Perception is reality. But companies can come out stronger and retain sustainable change if they take the time to identify the pros and cons, understand the importance of employee engagement and be empathetic to employee needs and their motivation to change while taking a greater look at the company culture moving forward. With the right plans in place, successfully transitioning people back to the office is possible.