After a year that forced most employees out of the office, and into remote work, the COVID-19 vaccine is starting to circulate – and that means companies need to create a return-to-work strategy
CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on 15Five
This isn’t as easy as a simple, all-staff, email with a return date. While employees might miss the camaraderie of their work colleagues, they’ve also got used to a morning commute that ends in their living room and become accustomed to flexible schedules that let them manage the pandemic-related changes in their personal lives while still hitting their work deadlines.
Employees’ hesitations about returning aren’t just about losing convenience; there is real fear behind it. A People Management report found that over half of workers were reluctant to return to the office because of fears they’d get the virus, and those who have returned weren’t confident about new safety measures.
Even with a vaccine, employees still have COVID-related responsibilities, and it’s not a given that everyone will get vaccinated. Your staff might feel that a full-time return to the office isn’t feasible. For many, the best solution will be to offer employees a hybrid work environment that mixes remote and on-site; this will help productivity remain high while still letting teammates handle personal business.
Keep some of these tips in mind as you begin planning for a smooth transition to a flexible work environment in a post-COVID era.
Let employees choose what works best for them
While the office might be opening up, your employees’ lives are still built around the effects and dangers of COVID. Asking them to return without factoring in their safety concerns, or pandemic-related personal and family commitments, will only add stress to an already-tense situation.
The best way to support your employees is by letting them create their own hybrid schedules. They’re the only ones who know how many plates they have to juggle, and when they have to juggle them. They’ll be most productive and engaged when they can figure out a plan that helps them cross everything off both their personal and professional to-do lists.
PWC found that 55% of employees wish to be remote three or more days per week, while 68% of leaders felt they should be in the office for the same amount of time. Stakeholders need to address this gap by listening to employees and instituting a return-to-work plan that inspires confidence. Communicate key dates, reintegration strategies, and what safety measures you’re implementing to calm their fears about being in the office once more.
Help teams align their schedules to foster collaboration
An added benefit to offering hybrid schedules is that you’re giving teams the opportunity to align their schedules to maximise their office time together. We owe a tremendous debt to video calls, but over half of remote workers felt lonely during the day, and almost 65% missed the social aspect of the office. You can also reach a deeper level of collaboration on-site because employees can push and inspire each other in ways that aren’t always possible on video. Furthermore, team leaders can only co-ordinate big meetings and special events effectively when they know employees’ on-site schedules.
While complete alignment is the goal, some colleagues may still be remote, either occasionally or permanently. If anyone has to attend a meeting virtually, encourage them to keep their cameras on; this will create a more seamless work environment that makes them feel like part of the team, even if they’re not in the room.
Aligning schedules, and taking steps to promote inclusion, strengthens relationships and drives growth more than employers asking workers to follow an arbitrary schedule that doesn’t reflect ‘the new normal’.
A flexible-work environment strategy is really an exercise in empowering your employees, given their well-founded fears and hesitations. Everything you do should be done with providing a COVID-safe working environment – which makes them feel safe, engaged, and productive – in mind.
Keep employees ‘in the loop’ with your office’s plans, and continue providing information and resources after they’re back. Let on-site employees create their own hybrid schedules so they won’t stress about handling their personal lives. Focus on office culture, and make sure that remote workers feel like they’re in the office.
The growing pains might be tough, but they’re worth it; your staff will feel appreciated, engaged and, most importantly, productive.