Returning To The Office: Tips On How To Prepare Your Employees

Modern office interior

Remote work has been a lifeline in helping businesses keep their operations going during the COVID-19 crisis. 

For some organizations, it’s gone so well that they’ve ditched their physical offices entirely and moved to working from home for good. For others, though, the move has always been a temporary one, meant to be a stopgap measure until business could return to normal. 

Maybe your work isn’t suited to be done remotely, or perhaps your employees haven’t adapted well to being stationed at home. Maybe the rising vaccination rates make it safe to do business in person once again and you’re eager to get back to it. Whatever the case, you’re in good company if you’re preparing for a return to the office now or in the near future. 

Just as the switch to remote work came with some growing pains and required a new toolset, so will the transition when it happens in reverse. And, although you’ll expect your employees to adapt, you may need to make some corresponding shifts in your own expectations to ensure a smooth return. 

Here are some tips to help managers and employees as they come back into the office. 

Ensure a Smooth Return to the Office With These Insightful Strategies

Be empathetic

It’s been a challenging stretch for a lot of people, perhaps more so than at any other time in their lives. While some may welcome the sense of stability that comes with going back to the office, others may find it to be just another burden in a year that’s already been filled with so many.

Help ease their difficulties by leading with empathy. Respect that this is a difficult time for many people and when possible, provide support and flexibility. This might mean making allowances that wouldn’t have happened prior to the pandemic or changing some of your policies to adopt a more hybrid onsite remote approach. 

Phase it in

Employees upended their lives to work from home, and it may take some similar gymnastics to coordinate a return to the office. Many will need to find childcare, line up schedules with partners and other family members, adjust their schedules to account for commuting, and other logistics. 

If possible, it’s a great idea to phase employees back into working onsite over the course of three to six months. You might phase in one group at a time starting with the most critical staffers and work outward from there, or you might start with having them come in only a couple of days a week and work up to the full workweek. 

A phased approach not only gives workers a chance to rearrange their lives as needed but allows you to build a framework of expectations and actions that need to happen at each phase to make the transition successful.

Related: How To Manage A Hybrid Workforce

Prepare for pushback

The pandemic has sparked major questions about work as we know it, from where it happens to the hours it gets done to the boundaries between professional and home life. It’s only normal that after doing things differently for so long (and not having much of a say in the matter), some employees may feel like they shouldn’t have to come back in person.

Plan for how you’ll deal with pushback. Anticipate that many will have questions and special requests and prepare in advance for how you’ll respond to them. Will some staffers continue to be allowed to work from home? Will allowances be made for those with extenuating circumstances, like health concerns? By thinking these things through in advance and communicating with your employees about them, you’ll be more apt to curb any dissent in the ranks before it grows to be a problem. 

Reinforce your values

Now is a great time to do a little morale-boosting. Host a return orientation or other event that brings coworkers back together in a positive atmosphere, then use it to share messaging that reminds them why they wanted to work for you in the first place. 

Set clear expectations for where things stand today, where you’re headed and how the transition will take place, arming employees with as much information as possible. Check-in with your managers about the tools they need to make a smooth transition and support them as much as possible. 

Reexamine your policies

If you’re like most companies, you’ve probably asked a lot of your staff during the last year and a half. Are they asking you for things in return? If so, now might be a good time to deliver on those things, whether it’s more flexible work hours or new equipment/furniture to make their office space a little more comfortable. 

In addition, it’s a great time to re-examine the way you do things, assessing whether all of your policies suit the best interests of your workforce. Just because you’re back in your old space doesn’t mean you need to return to doing everything the same way you once did. Embrace the parts of remote work that worked well for your company. That might mean more emails and fewer in-person meetings, less micromanaging and more independence for team members, or flexible work-from-home time each month.

The goodwill you’ll build by making adjustments to serve your employees will go far in helping you get back to work quickly and smoothly.

Related: Strategies for Culture Change Management that Works

Keep them safe

While many aspects of our lives have achieved a return to normalcy, COVID-19 is still a risk and will likely continue to be for some time, especially as hotspots pop up seasonally and geographically. Give your employees confidence and keep them healthy by taking adequate safety measures as recommended by the experts. 

If your wellness program includes mental health resources, publicize those to employees or consider adding them temporarily during the transition period. Enlist your HR team to help with company-staff communications and to field questions and complaints as they come in. 

For more on ensuring a safe return to work, check out OSHA’s guidelines on mitigating COVID-19 in the workplace.

Related: Ways to Improve Employee Mental Health

Get Expert Help Building a Workforce For The Future

Whether you’re going returning to the office, transitioning to remote work for good, or implementing some hybrid of the two, one thing is for sure: work has undergone a monumental shift. Today’s best candidates are looking for employers who have embraced rather than resisted the changes. Which camp are you in?

To attract the employees who will help your organization succeed tomorrow, enlist the team of experts at 4 Corner Resources today. We’ll help you build a team of competent, culturally aligned workers that meet your technical needs. 

Contact us now to begin the conversation

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the president of 4 Corner Resources, the nationally acclaimed staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. His mission back then was the same as it is today: to do business in a personal way, while building an organization with boundless opportunities for ingenuity and advancement. When not managing 4 Corner’s growth or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his sales and business expertise though public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Hire Calling podcast.