Three ways to support employees returning to work


back to office

After 14 months of furlough, remote working and lockdowns, the time has finally come to start considering the return to the office. And those who are in charge of planning this return have a lot to consider. How will you reconfigure your office to aid social distancing? Will you stagger start and finish times? Will you bring your organisation back one team at a time? But whilst making these considerations, many overlook an important factor in returning to work: the emotional impact it will have on our people. 

Research shows that up to 63% of the workforce now believe the physical office is unnecessary, and perhaps more worryingly, 25% of UK employees said they would resign from their current role if they were forced to return to the office in a post-Covid world. So with employees content working from home, it’s imperative that we consider the impact returning to the office will have on our people. 

In this article we will share the top three considerations you should make to ensure you’re supporting your people sufficiently when reopening your office doors. 

1. Consider a hybrid approach

There are many benefits to having your employees all under the same roof, such as collaboration and socialisation with colleagues. But how many of your employees really need to be in the office to work productively? Research from McKinsey shows that in advanced economies, up to 25% of the workforce could work from home between three and five days a week, without any loss of productivity. 

It’s said that workers in the UK spend an average of 57 minutes per day commuting to and from their office. Since the onset of the pandemic and mandatory working from home, our people have been able to reclaim that time to use as they wish, increasing their work life balance. It’s therefore unsurprising that they do not want to return to old ways and sacrifice their new, more flexible lives. 

To achieve the ‘best of both worlds’, why not consider a hybrid approach to working? Allowing your people to work from home for a portion of the working week. This will maintain a more flexible working style, whilst still achieving the benefits of office working. And you won’t be alone in this approach, huge tech giants such as Salesforce, Facebook, Google and Amazon are set to adopt a hybrid approach to working. 

2. Open communication channels 

The easing of lockdown measures is likely to have a diverse range of effects on your employees. Some may be excited and ready to jump head-first into life ‘as normal’. Others may feel stressed, concerned and anxious about the easing of lockdown, and are hesitant to return to normal too soon. It’s important that you support all of these emotions as you prepare for your people to return to the office. 

To adequately support your people, you must open the lines of communication and create a supportive, empathetic working environment. One of the most effective ways of doing this is providing open, anonymous channels where employees can air their concerns. Anonymous channels allow your people to be truthful and frank about their opinions – without the fear of being judged or hurting anybody’s feelings. This ensures that you are receiving a true, accurate reflection of how your people are feeling about returning to the office (and how they feel once they are back). This allows you to iterate and adjust your office environment and policies, to ensure the return to work is as smooth as possible,

3. Implement mentoring or buddy schemes 

The pandemic has caused a significant increase in the number of people reporting to feel lonely. In fact, in a survey conducted in November 2020, 24% of people said they’d experienced loneliness in the past two weeks. Whilst you may opt to phase your return to work, or implement a hybrid approach, this might exacerbate the feeling of loneliness for some of your people. For this reason, implementing mentoring or buddy schemes is a great way to ensure your people feel supported on their return to work and reduce associated stress. 

Mentoring programmes reduce stress for both mentor and mentee, by providing a supportive environment for both parties to air their concerns and discuss any worries they may have on their return to work. What’s more, opting for a structured or guided approach to mentoring means that regular check ins will be booked in advance, ensuring that no employee falls under the radar and suffers from isolation. 

The truth is, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to returning to work

Whilst making all of the considerations above, it’s important to remember that what works for your organisation, may not work for another – and vice versa. In fact, what works for one of your employees may not work for the next. So, it’s extremely important in these turbulent times to remain agile and to listen to the needs of your people. They will be the single best source of information when it comes to what will work in making your ‘return to work’ as easy as possible. 

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