Over the past few months, many companies have been faced with the decision about whether or not to bring their employees back into the office and what that will look like at the organizational level. This decision has been weighing heavily on the minds of many leaders as they strive to decide what is best for their company and for their employees.
Please keep in mind that we’re talking about much more than social distancing and CDC guidelines here. These widely accepted rules are for the safety of your employees and customers, and your organization should abide by them. What I’m talking about is bigger than that — longer-term than that. We need to remember that over the last year, we have each learned a new way of life. We have developed new routines, new ways of working, and new ideas about how things are done.
While each organization is different and each solution needs to be designed on a case-by-case basis, one thing remains constant: However your organization decides to handle bringing people back into the office, do it with compassion.
As we start to poke our heads out of the fog we’ve been living in, leaders will need to recognize what has changed. Things will never be exactly the same as they were before 2020, and if you approach this challenge with disinterest or a lack of empathy, your employees will resent you for it and will go find an organization that cares.
Here are 3 things you absolutely must consider when deciding how to bring your employees back into the office:
1. Consider WHO needs to come back to work and WHY.
As a leader, it is important to think about why you want to bring your employees back into the office. What is the purpose? What roles do you need filled that your employees can’t do from home? And most importantly, how can you ensure that your employees feel supported while making these decisions? You may need someone to pick up packages and mail or send out shipments. Maybe you need someone to handle the reception desk or use equipment that’s only in the office.
Once you’ve established why you need employees physically present in the office, you can figure out how to best schedule in-person hours so everyone feels comfortable. A recent study shows that more than half of employees don’t want to go back to in-person work even after they are vaccinated. Your employees’ comfort level needs to be a top priority when figuring out who to bring back in-person, and when.
We recently worked with an organization where an employee told us that his boss was “freaking out” when trying to navigate the pandemic guidelines. He felt that his employees would not work hard if he wasn’t watching them. He was being tough but not compassionate — and as a result, his employees were quitting. On the opposite end of the spectrum, another client handled things brilliantly and approached the situation with compassion. As a result, his employees followed his direction and suggestions with confidence, because everyone’s concerns were being considered.
2. Reevaluate how you do things to improve workflow.
After you’ve established what roles your in-person employees need to play, you as a leader can help determine how to improve everyday workflows for your employees. Every process your organization has, from daily tasks, to creative collaboration, to company policies, should be on the table for improvement. Employees both in and out of the office will benefit, when you look at how you used to do things, and consider whether they can be updated. Here are a few examples of ways to improve your processes to get you started:
- Use a company-wide communication platform (like Teams or Slack).
Make it easy for your employees to stay in touch, whether they’re in the office or at home. Ensure that all of your employees use this communication system to stay connected.
- Make virtual meetings (like on Zoom) the norm.
Continue to hold regular meetings on Zoom when people are working from home. Make sure everyone is at their own computer (even when they’re in the office together) to avoid “gang-up” meetings. It is impossible for your employees at home to talk over a room of people who are in the office together.
- Brainstorm together.
Keep your staff involved with your decision-making. Brainstorm ways to ensure that your employees feel supportive, like having a specific process of who to reach out to should they find themselves struggling, or discussing how to deal with employee relations issues. Let them have a say in decisions that impact them. Your employees are much more likely to be committed to new processes if they are involved from the beginning.
3. Incorporate mindfulness and wellness into your company culture.
Incorporating mindfulness and wellness into you and your employees’ workday is essential during this time of constant change. Not only will this help your own stress level, but it will show your employees that it’s okay for them to feel stressed and to take care of themselves. Make sure that you, as the leader, participate in these activities with your employees so they feel that they have permission to feel and to heal from the events of this past year.
Here are some ways to encourage mindfulness and wellness during the workday:
- Set a mindfulness break at the same time every day.
Encourage your employees to take 15 minutes to read a book, do yoga, or take a walk. Put the “mindfulness break” on everyone’s calendar and make sure you participate as well! An employee with a clear mind and less stress will work more effectively.
- Check in with your employees.
Ask them how they’re doing and don’t take “I’m fine” for an answer. Remember that no one is fine right now, and encourage them to express how they’re feeling and what they need from you to reduce their stress level.
- Actively engage with your employees.
Interact with employees and ask how they are doing. Use employee engagement surveys to find out how you can best support your employees. Keep these surveys anonymous so your employees can truly express themselves. Hold a focus group to really dig in to employee issues and isolate specific ideas that might really make a difference in your workplace.
We know that deciding who to bring back to the office and when is a difficult decision for employers and comes with many unique challenges. There’s no “one size fits all” solution that will work for everyone, so engaging with your employees to come up with a plan that works for your organization is essential.
Remember the most important thing: Whatever you decide to do, do it with compassion. Down the road, your employees won’t remember the specifics of returning to work in-person, but they will remember how you acted, how you treated them, and how you made them feel during the process.
Need some help trying to figure how to bring your employees back to the office? We help organizations operate with compassion to make the right decisions. Schedule an initial consultation today to learn more about how we can help transform your leadership abilities.