Are you and your business getting ready to return to the office? After the past two years with continual lockdowns across the country, many businesses are now starting to plan for the return to the office either full time or at flexible hours in the new year.
You might be eager and rearing for the team to come back full time to the hustle and bustle of the office and looking to create an effective return-to-office plan to make the transition as seamless as possible.
Well look no further, we have got you covered with our top tips on how to create an effective return-to-office plan and prepare your team.
Employers are looking to bring people back together for connection and collaboration. But they might meet some resistance from employees who are hesitant to return for health and safety reasons or those who feel they are more productive working from home. It is therefore important to make returning to the office as enjoyable, engaging and safe as possible to meet the needs of your employees.
It’s worth noting that there is a disconnect between employees and employers when it comes to returning to the office, with executives working remotely being nearly three times more likely than employees to prefer returning to the office full-time.
There are countless reasons why leaders want their employees to return to the office, and we might be biased running a coworking facility, but reports show that working from home full time could be bad for your health, with reports of increased mental health issues and loneliness. Not only that, but studies by MIT also show that people that worked together in close proximity to each other were three times as collaborative and saw a greater production of work. People need social interaction and connection! After all, whether they are introverts or extroverts, getting that meaningful interaction is essential to people's wellbeing. And let's be honest, most of us are getting exhausted of those endless zoom meetings, connecting in person is far more engaging.
Let's not forget the simple joy of that morning coffee chat with your teammates. Coming together to work will inspire your employees and provide networking opportunities that simply do not exist online.
Research from Gallup suggests making this an opportunity for your business to create a "workplace value proposition that actually enhances the engagement of your workforce”. In other words, all businesses need to create an environment where employees want to come back to the office.
So, you have decided to start working on how to get people back into the office, but now what? Where do you even begin? We asked resident Tank Stream Labs experts Aubrey Mazinyi, Talent Acquisition Manager (People & Culture) at Palo-IT and Cassandie (Johnston) Tozer, Head of People and Culture at Stockspot for their advice on making the transition from WFH to back in the workplace as smooth as possible.
Firstly, find out why is it important for your team to come back to the office, is it for networking with team members or prospective clients? To collaborate on projects? For the team at Stockspot, they found that their “why” was the bump factor.
“One great aspect of a communal working environment is the opportunity for the bump factor. To simply bump into people when walking to a meeting, getting coffee, or making lunch in the kitchen. Discussing a problem and sharing ideas informally often leads to new innovative ways of doing things for ourselves and our clients. This bump factor also makes it much easier to reach out and help a colleague when you can see them struggling with something and on the flip side to call out for help when you need it. This is made a lot easier when in an office and simply looking up at those around you, rather than wondering if someone is online and scheduling meetings every time you want to connect.” - Cassandie Tozer, Stockspot
1. Start at the beginning
This one might seem a given, but have you made sure that all key stakeholders are across the plan? Getting the stakeholders aligned is an essential first step as any misalignment here can filter down the business and can make the transition more difficult.
When preparing to return to the workplace, prioritise aligning the stakeholders with the plan, gathering all executives and hearing their concerns and thoughts on returning to the office. Every key stakeholder must be allowed to voice their opinion and feel heard in the discussion as there are likely to be a myriad of different opinions and concerns.
“Start with a discussion, one that involves the key stakeholders in the business. Part of the difficulty in making the right move when it comes to challenging topics is getting key stakeholders aligned.” - Aubrey Mazinyi, Palo-IT
Once the key stakeholders have been aligned, then it’s time to get the opinion of the rest of the team. Aubrey Mazinyi further recommends having this conversation separately with each team member, and not as a group so that stronger personalities won’t sway the group's opinion.
2. Create a battle plan
Now that you have your “why”, your next order of business is figuring out the how, by creating an official return-to-office plan for your business. Figure out what is a realistic strategy for your business when taking everyone's opinion on board.
The next step is frequency. Will everyone be back full time? Three times a week? On a rotating schedule?
Once these questions have been answered, propose to figure out what policies your company will need for success and what the team will need when returning to the office. This is the time to go through your company processes, fully understand your company culture and make sure that it is aligned with the new plan.
Does your workplace policy need to be updated? Do you have a company covid safe plan? Is your previous dress code still relevant? Is everyone set up with the right IT equipment? And are your company security measures up to standard for WFH? Take the time to go through your company processes and update where relevant.
Make sure to ask your employees what their short term and long term concerns and expectations are. Use this information to shape your back to the office plan.
It’s crucial to share (perhaps even overshare) all new policies, guidelines and safety protocols with all employees. This will ensure everyone knows exactly what to expect when they come back to the workplace.
Part of that is sharing your COVID Safety Plan with your employees, this will mitigate any risk when bringing employees back together, as well as reassure them that you are taking all necessary precautions to keep them safe.
Stockspot implemented a transition out of lockdown plan that covered all policies for the end of 2021 and into 2022.
3. Prioritise Mental Wellbeing
Now is not the time to stop any wellbeing check-ins and programs that were set up during lockdowns. The long term effects of the pandemic and lockdowns, as well as the uncertainty of the current situation, means that people are dealing with more stress and anxiety.
The pandemic has changed the way we view work, and employees and prospective employees now expect employees to prioritise mental health in the workplace. So don’t stop the one on one checkups, weekly team yoga and fitness classes now. Make sure to continue making this a priority and taking things slowly to allow employees to get comfortable with returning to the office environment.
In addition to wellbeing check-ins, we recommend ramping up in-person social events, whether that is team bonding sessions, Christmas parties or weekly team lunch at the office. This will get everyone excited about coming back as well. Just make sure you have a contingency plan for those employees that are not fully vaccinated at the date you decide to return to the office.
“The fact remains, nothing beats human interaction. So, encouraging people to connect on more than just work will always help.” - Aubrey Mazinyi, Palo IT
If companies are looking for a more flexible office solution, Tank Stream Labs caters for all businesses regardless of team sizes.
If you have any questions on this content or want to speak with a member of the Tank Stream Labs team and flexible office space, feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.