As your HR team looks to button down your post-pandemic workforce, you’re bound to meet challenges to your return to work plan. Companies from numerous industries have seen success adapting to fully remote and hybrid work models, but many employers are ready to lay the groundwork for a more permanent work environment solution. This means moving back to the office for many teams.
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as summoning everyone back to their old cubicles. Your HR team needs to identify the unique needs of your employees to function at optimal levels. Does this mean changes to the office environment? Should some departments stay remote? How will the office culture differ from before the pandemic, and how do you prepare your teams to adjust to their new fixed schedules?
Here are just a few of the factors your HR team should consider when constructing your return to work plan:
Your team, unfortunately, had no time to adjust to working from home when the pandemic forced your office doors to close. But rest assured, the majority of your employees have adapted to working at their own pace while balancing home responsibilities. And they likely haven’t shaved or put on makeup every morning in over a year. There is going to be a transition!
It’s not just a matter of adjusting their schedules to recommit to a 9-5; they are going to take on extra stress from commuting, extra expenses (refreshing their wardrobe, fuel, lunches), and possibly even receive pushback from their families. These changes can have a big impact on their happiness, which as you know, can affect their productivity.
Part of your return to work plan needs to take into account the effects the transition is going to have as employees move back into the traditional office environment. There may be distractions from reconnecting with co-workers, lower performance from coping with old stressors, and chaos as they reestablish work/life balance.
Employees need to know they have your empathy and support as they work out the kinks and get back up to pace in the office. This is as good of a time as any to reboot your employee mental health and wellness programs and ease up on performance reviews that offer anything but constructive feedback.
Flexible work options
Jumping right back into the office might not be reasonable or even necessary for every role. If there are employees who can still do their jobs at home, at least some of the time, you may want to consider what many companies are choosing to do: adopt a hybrid work model.
When creating your return to work plan, evaluate what roles can continue to work effectively in remote positions. If it’s more practical to have all employees in the office for important meetings or team training, identify how frequently this needs to occur and if you can set a predictable schedule for employees to plan by. For example, everyone works in the office every Thursday, or you only need to have certain employees come in once a month for training, etc.
If working remotely isn’t an option for anyone in your company, discuss if employees can keep up with their post-pandemic lifestyles by working flexible hours. Make it possible for employees to start after they put their kids on the bus and make it home in time to coach little league. Find a new in-office model that works for the greatest number of employees and keeps morale high.
Recommended Reading: Be prepared to take on these 5 remote/hybrid workforce models.
Adjusted benefits or salaries
The return to work could have financial impacts on your team you didn’t consider. For example, depending on how family circumstances changed as a result of the recession, some employees may be down a vehicle to commute. A few families may have pulled their kids from public schools and would need to find tutors, others may have to budget once again for childcare.
Returning to the office may also mean their paychecks need to stretch further to cover travel expenses, dry cleaning, and social events (happy hour costs money, after all). Rather than installing new vending machines in the breakroom to entice employees back to the office, it may be beneficial to determine if there is room in the budget to give employees bonuses or extra PTO to make up for the strain on their bank accounts.
With that said, it may benefit your team to add a few money-saving options to the office. Perhaps you can ease their burden of transitioning back by offering healthy lunch options on the house. Or provide employee recognition perks that help them earn cash incentives, like gift cards to stores they shop in regularly or restaurants where they can treat their families. Your return to work plan should show some benefit to employees if you hope to keep retention high.
Adapting to the office space
For some employees, working from home has been a challenge. Many people enjoy their time away from home where they can interact with and be challenged by their professional peers. The lack of collaboration and camaraderie could have had an impact on your team’s overall morale and the company culture.
There are also employees who do not have the most ideal office setup when working remotely and feel their performance would improve in the office. In fact, you may have noticed several employees whose productivity dropped significantly but not for lack of them putting the time and effort into their remote workday.
While moving back into the office may be a welcome transition for many employees, that doesn’t mean it won’t be a shock at the very same time. Your HR team needs to consider what changes will be made to the office to keep employees healthy and safe. For example, if employees formerly worked in an open floor plan, how will they adapt to cubicles? Or will you simply have to adopt a hybrid/rotating schedule so fewer employees occupy the office at one time?
Employees used to sit and catch up over the lunchroom table or take micro-breaks together at the coffee center or copy machine. Will there be distancing restrictions in place? Maybe employees will be encouraged to visit the nearby park for a walking meeting instead of crowding into a conference room. The bottom line is, employees who are eager to return to their old office space might experience a dip in productivity or morale when returning to work just the same as anyone who would prefer to work from home.
Ultimately, when creating your return to work plan, you need to expect the change won’t be easy for anyone. But by considering the needs of everyone before taking action, you will prove to employees that your HR team prioritizes their safety and success.