These issues may present themselves as reduced productivity, low office morale, or simply just not the same standard of work being produced. This is to be expected initially and can’t be helped for the first few weeks, but leadership teams need to consider how to prevent this from becoming a long-term trend.
The health, wellbeing and safety of the workforce should be the top priority for all involved as a business makes plans regarding operations returning to some semblance of normal. Guidelines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommend that workplaces remain flexible even after full re-opening. This will allow for a safer and more resilient workplace long-term. Due to this, the hybrid model is the system of operations that many companies will continue to operate under long-term. To what degree is entirely up to the employer, but it’s essential to not cut remote working capabilities out of plans for the future.
Re-acclimating the onsite workforce will present an enormous change management challenge for all involved. A communication strategy that can help employees return to the workplace and those who continue to work remotely must be employed to relay the company's shared vision throughout the workforce. HR teams must prepare for an increase in ethics and compliance complaints from employees whose concerns remain, and rightfully so.
There are five main factors to consider for employees returning to the office:
1. Preparations must be made for employees that refuse to return full time
Some workforce members may not agree with full-time office work now that they’ve been allowed to work from home - this is to be expected. Therefore, plans must be in place to enable flexible working arrangements to continue if it benefits your company. Many organizations will achieve this by maintaining the IT infrastructure employed for remote working and communicating via these means. This prevents exclusion and still ensures productivity goals are reached.
Another possibility is staff no longer being willing to make long commutes every day. This is also not a problem if the hybrid infrastructure is adequately maintained - staff can commute in a few days a week and efficiently work the other shift from a secondary location.
2. Make all plans to return on a short-term timeline
It's essential to be realistic regarding the possibility of having an outbreak or facing employee resistance. It’s equally as vital that employee expectations are managed effectively - They must understand that things may change overnight and be confident that the company is prepared for these changes.
To minimize the potential negative impact of returning to the workplace, it's critical to prepare for these moments instead of hoping they don't happen. Legal and leadership teams should have plans for the worst-case scenario and determine the company's response ahead of time. Employees must also be thoroughly involved with a return to work strategy - individual employees are the ones who will be most impacted by going back to work, so they should have an active role in shaping the transition of returning.
3. Consider a staggered return
The majority of companies aren’t planning to send everyone back to the workplace at the same time. Instead, many are utilizing a staggered approach to phase employees back into the office over an extended time period. To determine the timeline of these events, the needs and priorities of the company must be taken into account. For example, if having employees in the door is the businesses' main priority, be it for rental purposes or otherwise, who would most benefit from entering the office first? Are creative and collaborative teams struggling with a lack of face-to-face contact? Or should HR and leadership enter first to allow a touchpoint for the rest of the remote workforce? Discussing these plans with employees before making a decision or communicating a plan will ease some of the anxiety felt about returning to the workplace.
4. Will the IT infrastructure that’s currently in place support long-term hybrid work?
How well is information flowing through the business processes and applications when employees are based in different locations? Is paper-based information that enters the office digitally accessible to staff working remotely? Are these methods secure and reliable?
If there’s any uncertainty surrounding these questions, they must be addressed sooner rather than later. An unresolved issue with IT infrastructure can have severe repercussions as the strain upon it increases. Organizations need IT infrastructure that supports easy information flow, regardless of location. For many, that may mean a complete refresh, moving away from onsite infrastructure to cloud-based software and services.
5. Have all precautions been taken to keep your employees safe?
The guidelines regarding these precautions will differ from location to location. Still, before employees enter your office for the first time, all rules and regulations must be met, and plans to uphold these standards must be apparent and well-rehearsed.
As restrictions ease, the impact it has varies from business to business. Organizations need to prepare and plan their next steps, both for the immediate future and the longer term. Communication with staff is critical, so this transition can go smoothly and be well received. Keeping each staff member informed of what your business is doing will help them to make their own decisions, giving them much-needed security in very uncertain times.