How to prepare your people for the return to work | Connor Broadley

News & Insights | 25th March 2021

How to prepare your people for the return to work

By Matthew Law


7 Min Read

The route out of lockdown 3.0 has been mapped out, but no guidelines have been published for those who’ve swapped offices and workplaces for remote set ups. As companies start planning their teams’ return to work alongside the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, they will need to consider the impact on wellbeing and culture.

A February 2021 survey by digital workplace Claromentis of 1,000 UK white collar workers found that almost three quarters (73%) want a ‘hybrid’ arrangement after the pandemic threat subsides, with the ideal split 64% from home and 36% from the office. Only 7% want to work from the office full time.

While tech giants like LinkedIn, Square and Twitter are supportive of the prospect of long-term remote work, other views – especially leaders in finance – contrast starkly. Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon has called remote work “an aberration” that needs to be corrected as quickly as possible.

While Solomon’s comments might have riled those hoping for greater flexibility in the long term, it’s hard to argue with his point that the company’s youngest workers starting their careers this summer could miss out on valuable opportunities for mentorship.

While there seems to be a consensus on the downsides of remote work – which also include feelings of disconnectedness and isolation, and visibility issues when going for promotions – it’s still overwhelmingly popular.

It would appear that, among employees seeking a better work-life balance, the benefits can outweigh the drawbacks, which is why the conversation around remote working was rumbling on well before COVID-19 forced companies to try it.

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A ‘forced’ return to the workplace isn’t advised and could well backfire. The risk is talent will be lost to companies that are more flexible and, post-pandemic, there will be many more companies being more flexible.

It must be a choice, not a mandatory requirement. To entice more back to the office will involve a PR job: communicating the benefits of, and incentivising, on-site work.

Consider the following in your return to work planning

How could a hybrid arrangement work?

Compromise by offering employees the best of both, but also consider how this might work in practice. The aforementioned survey found the most popular hybrid arrangement among employees is total flexibility so teams can create a routine that works for them. Twice as many people (60%) want the flexibility to drop in to the office and co-work when it suits them, than set days each week when the whole company has to be in the office (29%). (Interestingly, the former is more popular among women and the latter more popular among men).

Of course, this also makes far more sense from a practical and financial perspective: employers can lease smaller office spaces, rather than having to maintain the same sized space to accommodate the entire staff for a fraction of the week.

Does your workplace setup inspire confidence?

Shifting your workplace setup around has two important functions. First, it can create a space that supports collaboration to ensure that maximum value is gained from people when they are in the office.

Secondly, it can help people to feel confident about being around others again. No-touch design, good ventilation and increasing the number of deep cleans will inspire confidence (as will reduced headcount if you offer hybrid working). Employees expected to return to the office will understandably want to know how the office is to be made safe to reduce the risk of infection, especially now people are far wiser to how viruses spread and evolve.

Invest in resilience training

While we can’t always predict what life will throw at us, we can equip ourselves and our teams so that we can deal adeptly with the unknown. Resilience training helps people adapt more readily to stressful situations and to disruption – which doesn’t have to be a pandemic, it could simply be a difficult client, or a disagreement with a colleague, moving to a new team or working with a new technology setup.

Some people react better than others to new working practices or workplace stressors, as well as life changes, because they are more resilient. But this is something that can be taught. Ensuring employees are emotionally resilient, with proper training and support, is crucial for a mentally healthy workforce, especially in turbulent times.

Watch the latest video with Vicky Mottershaw discussing the opportunity for employers and employees returning to the office >

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