As vaccination rates rise, businesses reopen, and more regions start to get back to some semblance of normalcy, you might be looking at the prospect of bringing remote employees back to the office. This is a prospect to take seriously; mismanaging the transition from remote work to the “new normal” could have a long-lasting, negative impact on your relationship with your workers.
It’s a stressful situation for everyone involved. Taking the time to understand what your employees are going up against, as well as how to reduce pain in the process of transitioning back to in-person work, will pay dividends over time. If done correctly, it could fundamentally transform your relationship with your team for the better.
With that in mind, here are three tips that can help overcome employees’ pain points and allow for a smoother transition back to the office.
1. Be Flexible
The first point we need to discuss is the fact that the transition won’t be a clean-cut process. People have had to restructure their lives entirely to accommodate their families’ needs. That’s not something you can unwind overnight; adjusting to major change can take months, in some circumstances.
You should anticipate that many employees will be unable to simply snap back to pre-Covid normality. Thus, you need to be flexible during this time and approach the process with understanding and consideration.
Everyone will have their own unique roadblocks on the path back to “normal” with which they must contend. Childcare, for instance, could be a significant challenge in some situations. Other workers might have an immunocompromised person in the house, which makes the thought of returning to work and exposing that person to the virus a source of anxiety.
The approach we took at Chargebacks911 was to offer significant leeway to each department in planning out their transition process. For instance, managers had the option to stagger workers back into the office, allowing employees to choose which office days would work best for their needs.
This is going to be a give-and-take process. If you’re flexible with your teams, they’ll be more willing to return the favor and be flexible with you.
2. Communicate Effectively
The next point to acknowledge is communication. After more than a year of remote work, the importance of effective communication is probably already clear. However, taking the right tone and tack in your approach to bringing workers back into the office is going to be critical.
You need to be empathetic in the tone you take. Highlight that you understand the challenges many workers might still face as a result of the pandemic. Whatever you do, don’t try to draw an equivalency; don’t say “I get that things have been hard for you, but they’ve been hard on the company, too.” This will only alienate your workers from you.
Finally, remember that effective communication requires open communication. People need to feel comfortable approaching you with concerns, whether they’re in regard to personal struggles, or the company’s approach to reopening. These lines of communication need to be accessible throughout the day; you need to have an “open door” policy in terms of physical—and remote—communication.
3. Take Steps to Alleviate Stress and Anxiety
Anxiety is never a welcome response to any stimuli. Given the circumstances, though, many people are going to experience some anxiety about returning to work. That’s just an unavoidable fact; however, you can alleviate a lot of the strain by making moves to help employees manage stress and anxiety more effectively.
You want to instill the idea in your teams that you take their safety seriously. Don’t ever give off the impression that you’re treating the pandemic in a flippant or dismissive manner. Rather, you want to clearly explain to your teams what steps you’re taking to protect them against infection. Are you allowing space for social distancing? Are you enforcing mask requirements and/or temperature checks before entering the office? You need to clarify your position before employees are expected to return to work in person.
Anxiety and stress are still going to be factors as employees return to the office, even after taking the steps outlined above. However, you can alleviate these to a significant degree by reminding employees how much you value them.
We’ve implemented “Stress-Free Fridays,” where we’ll have stretch sessions, plus massages provided by a professional massage therapist on occasion. We also have in-office yoga sessions, which we conduct twice weekly. I feel that these moves, plus providing a catered lunch for employees from time to time, really go a long way to reinforce the idea that we truly care about our team members.