With coronavirus restrictions reducing and life finally starting to resemble pre-pandemic times, many companies who adopted working from home are now requesting staff to be returning to the workplace, most commonly on a hybrid basis.
With two years of remote working, employers are likely to be anticipating a reluctance from staff returning to the workplace. We explore below how you can successfully navigate this challenge.
The majority of employers recognise the pandemic has fundamentally changed the world of work, and hybrid working will become the norm for many.
Hybrid working will be different for every business. So ultimately employers need to decide on what strategy will work in terms of the office/home split. At this stage, just trusting employees to work in the smartest way possible for them might feel a bridge too far, and instead setting parameters for office attendance is likely to be a sensible, interim approach.
Whatever your hybrid plans, clear communication with employees around your expectations will be important, along with involving your employees in what is likely to be an evolving process. For more information on hybrid working, please visit the FD People Hub.
Recreate the Benefits of Office Working
Let’s face it, working from home has a good few perks – no commute, a lunchtime walk and a few loads of washing when you have 5 minutes to spare! Employees who were initially reticent about remote working have grown to love it. This in turn creates less of a draw to the office.
Employers will therefore need to find ways to demonstrate the benefits to staff of spending time back at their old desk. Here’s a few ideas:
- Encourage team meetings in the office to enhance collaboration and reduce Zoom fatigue;
- Arrange face to face rather than virtual training – staff will get so much more out of this in terms of their learning;
- Think about ways to make the office more attractive – you don’t need to rip down partition walls, but perhaps look at creating a few more break out spaces or simply having nicer coffee in the kitchen can help make the place more appealing;
- Think about technology to make spending time in the office easier – video calls have become common place, but this doesn’t need to all be done at home. Dedicating a meeting room to video conferencing or providing headsets to staff can support having video calls in the office;
- Organise a long-awaited social event – it could be a coffee morning for the full office for departments to mingle, a team lunch or fun evening activity.
Handling COVID Concerns
We have all become conditioned to avoid the coronavirus over the last few years, and we now have to learn to live with it. This is a significant change, and many employees will be concerned about coming back to an office and sitting in close proximity to others.
Whilst we are entering a new phase of the pandemic, putting in place measures to ensure people feel safe coming to work is essential. The first key step is updating your Health and Safety risk assessment as this will identify what measures you could do away and what will be important to retain. Having a publicised risk assessment and policy for dealing with COVID in the workplace will reassure anyone who is concerned about the risks of returning to the workplace.
You may still find even with this some staff, particularly those who have health conditions or who are pregnant, feel worried about being back in an enclosed space.
In this case, speak with affected staff individually. Try to probe into what their concerns are and what measures they think the business should take to alleviate this.
Promoting Positive Mental Health At Work
Whilst remote working has been a great social experiment that has been a catalyst for much-needed change in working life, it is arguably not good for people to spend all of their time working at their dining room table or in their spare bedroom. Research has shown a 10% increase in mental health issues since the start of the pandemic, and this can be attributed to social isolation and general COVID anxiety.
Long term, a move back to spending time in the office interacting with colleagues will be a good thing for mental wellbeing. but the challenges of returning for employees can’t be underestimated. Here are a few tips to support employees in navigating this change:
- Help employees ease back to the office, perhaps starting with a meeting in the office or phasing up to their new working model;
- Encourage employees to talk to their line manager if they have any concerns or challenges with the transition;
- Work with managers to identify the signs of mental ill-health – an employee who persistently comes up with reasons not to attend the office is likely to be nervous about a return, and could be suffering from mental health issues;
If you don’t already have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) in place for employees, now would be a good time to look at this. This is a confidential telephone helpline for employees to contact if they are struggling with their mental health. Many EAPs will provide additional online resources that employees can tap into for tips on dealing with any issues they are facing.
The FD People team can support employers navigate the hurdles of returning to the workplace from both an HR and Health and Safety perspective. Please contact email@example.com or call 0141 221 2984 and we will be happy to help.