Before 2020, workplaces were already embracing flexible working; but COVID-19 restrictions put that into over-drive. Technology caught up in some instances, people settled into new routines, and employers created new programs and processes to keep their teams connected, engaged and productive.
The easing of restrictions means that we can now return to the workplace, but it also poses a challenge for employers. Employees have proven they can be productive and engaged from home. While some will relish face-to-face contact with their peers, others will be more reluctant to leave the comfort of home. Some may even be fearful of being in public for extended periods.
Those organisations who seize this period as a chance to reset their organisational culture will thrive in 2021 and beyond.
Senior leaders are generally across the practical aspects of returning to the workplace. Hand washing and hygiene, the protocol for face mask and physical distancing may feel onerous, but they can be put into practice with a series of clear, tangible steps.
Managing employees’ mindset, wellbeing, and engagement is a more difficult task. Those who succeed will be leaders with strong people management skills, a focus on teamwork, and a willingness to have open, meaningful and empathetic conversations.
Reflect and reset
Senior managers should take stock of what worked well, and where the challenges lay, during 2020.
Where are the skill gaps – either because you’ve created new processes, opened up new service lines, or discovered limitations in staff capability? How can you level up the training you offer?
Did you lose staff during COVID-19? Take a moment to reframe the roles you have available, and who you need to fill them. Your new team members may have different skills to previous people and bring a different set of personal qualities.
We recommend five key steps for a seamless return to the office.
The shift to online working sparked exponential growth in staff mindset and skills. Continue to offer your people new opportunities to grow. Continuing to demonstrate your trust in staff to get their work done without micromanagement will build respect for your leadership.
The job market is picking up again and whilst some sectors will find an abundance of candidates, there will be a scarcity of candidates in other areas. What does your organisation offer – are you clear about your Employment Value Proposition? What makes your team want to stick with you through good times and bad (including a pandemic) over a competitor? A key element will be feeling understood and invested in the broader vision of the organisation. Ask staff what they need, and what works best for them. Remember to keep them informed of your plans for the future.
Listen with empathy
One of the biggest challenges facing leaders is to know how to have empathetic conversations with your team. We all experience different things at our own pace and time. Some staff will be resistant to returning to the office, whether that’s because they enjoy working remotely, have a compromised immune system, or have caring responsibilities.
You will need to feel confident in your ability to hear people’s concerns and negotiate changes to working conditions that suit everyone. You will also need to be aware of what is and is not appropriate to ask of your employees at this time.
Reinvigorate team culture
Not all people will return to the office at the same time. Indeed, it’s likely that the members of one team each want to work from the office on different days. Take time to map out a plan of how this can work for employee needs, as well as business requirements. This may include guidelines or policies around how frequently teams meet, and how they stay connected in different physical spaces.
Play to your priorities
Your leadership team needs to know what the organisation’s business priorities are, and how this impacts who returns to the physical workplace and when. A phased return to the office will not only be good for the bottom line and hitting business targets; but be a more comfortable mental transition for employees too.
Transitioning back to the workplace
Empowered HR has designed a free one-hour session, From Surviving to Thriving: building a positive post-COVID workplace, for leaders to support them in creating and implement a plan for their people as they return to the office.
From juggling a hybrid workforce to closing the skills gaps revealed during lock-down, senior leaders will walk away feeling prepared, confident and inspired.
Empowered HR will also provide practical strategies to navigate difficult conversations and maintain the momentum of wellbeing initiatives launched in 2020.
Book your attendance at one of our free online webinars via Eventbrite at https://hr-from-surviving-to-thriving.eventbrite.com.au/
Or Get in touch now to organise a session specifically for your team or clients.