NEW NORMAL - What Will It Take To Get People Back To The Office?
After more than fourteen months, the world’s biggest work-from-home experiment is coming to an end. As the Covid-19 vaccine program continues at pace, many businesses are looking to resume office life, and they want their employees back at their desks. Goldman Sachs has told staff to “make plans to be in a position to return to the office” by June 14, while Google, one of the first major employers to send people home at the start of the pandemic, is accelerating its back-to-the-office plans. But not all employees share their bosses’ eagerness. Close to a quarter of U.S. workers say they would consider quitting, should they be required to work in an office before all employees have been vaccinated. So, how can employers allay employees’ fears and encourage them to return?
Listen To How People Feel
Asking how people feel about heading back to the office, and listening to what they say, will help you develop return-to-work plans that alleviate their anxieties. It’s safe to assume that health and hygiene will be front of mind, but there may be some issues you haven’t considered. At Tiger Recruitment, when we surveyed our employees, public transport emerged as the top concern by far, so we’ve introduced flexible start and finish times so that people can avoid traveling in rush hour.
Speaking to employees individually is also recommended, as everyone’s perceptions will differ. It’s a good opportunity not only to discuss workers’ immediate concerns but also the working arrangements that will suit them best in the longer-term. You may find that employees are more receptive to an office return if they know they’ll be able to maintain at least some of their pandemic flexibility.
Ensuring people feel safe is also vital. Numerous studies show that this is employees’ number one priority, so reassuring them that you’ve taken every possible step to prepare for their safe return to the office is key. Sharing your risk assessment is an effective way to do this. It should cover the potential hazards that Covid-19 presents for your business and what you’re doing to mitigate those risks. This might include temperature and symptom checks, workplace reconfigurations, social-distancing measures, enhanced cleaning and personal protective equipment requirements.
Manage Re-Entry Anxiety
It’s not only physical well-being that employers need to consider. Supporting employees’ mental health is equally important. The end of the pandemic may be in sight but what comes next is still uncertain and not everyone is looking forward to a return to ‘normality’. In an American Psychological Association survey, almost half of adults reported feeling uncomfortable about resuming in-person interactions when the pandemic ends. For some, the thought of leaving the “Covid cave” they’ve created during the past 14 months could be a source of extreme stress. Experts call this reverse culture shock or re-entry syndrome. Offering employees flexibility in how they return can go a long way to alleviating their concerns. Gradually reintroducing them to office life may help them reacclimatize and gain confidence. This is also an opportune time to remind staff of any mental health and wellbeing support you provide.
Help People Reconnect
Clearly, this is an anxious time for employees who, having got used to a new ‘normal’ are having to adjust yet again. However, the hope is that once they’ve taken their first tentative steps on familiar ground, they’ll remember the things they’ve missed such as the camaraderie and social side of office life, alongside getting together and bouncing ideas off one another. Social distancing will curtail face-to-face interactions to a certain extent, but safe and fun activities – such as games in the park or alfresco team drinks – can help employees reconnect and make them feel good about being back. And the fear of missing out may even inspire other more reticent returners to join them.
Different But Better
However, just as the pandemic affected people in different ways, the prospect of returning to the office is likely to trigger different emotions in everyone – dread, fear, anticipation and, hopefully, excitement. As an employer, the best you can do is provide your teams with facts and information to reassure them, sufficient flexibility to manage their return in a way they are comfortable with, and an open forum where they can express their fears and reservations without judgement. Of course, things will be different when we do go back to our desks. But if we apply the lessons we learned during the pandemic about flexibility, resilience, compassion and innovation, we may find they’re even better than before.
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