Despite the threat of a new wave of COVID, the return to the office has begun for many businesses. A number of strategies have therefore been put in place to make the experience positive, such as: Hybrid work, reorganization of workspaces, and special events. All this in the hopes of reestablishing a certain sense of normality. But this new normal has yet to be defined and flexibility remains the key for organizations.
At the beginning of April, I had the experience to discuss the subject with participants of the Live discussion that I regularly host. Always very generous, the participants wanted to share their realities.
The thing that comes out of conversations on the subject most often is that flexibility is seen to be necessary to promote a successful return to the office.
For the past 2 years, most office employees have worked almost exclusively from home. New habits were established, new ways of organizing ourselves were adopted. This is why returning to the office requires well thought out change management plan. As with all change, not all people deal with it the same way.
For many, returning to the office is a source of stress. This can be linked to health concerns, but it could also be caused by what impact a reorganization may have on one’s personal and professional life. Many are worried about losing their independence and the flexibility their schedule allowed while working remotely.
However, for others, the return to the office is welcome news. The need to socialize, to get out of the house and to reestablish a certain divide between work and family time is attractive to many.
This being said, the return to the office needs to be done with regard to employee health and security in mind. But it’s important to remain flexible and to be ready to adjust if necessary. Proceeding with a trial and error approach may be inevitable.
Different Formulas to a Hybrid Approach
Most of the large companies tend to opt for a hybrid approach. Many businesses that I know seem to be moving in the same direction. Nevertheless, the way in which businesses apply the formula differ from one place to another.
Some require a certain number of days spent at the office per week. Many even ask employees to come in at specific times, notably with respect to meetings or training. Some organizations leave the managers to decide how each team or department will work.
Others go even further. They suggest to their employees that they choose from different options. Every option has its own set of rules, its advantages and its disadvantages. By selecting a profile, the employee must commit to their choice even if there’s a possibility they’ll change their mind. In essence, this allows organizations to adapt to the needs of individuals, to create a clear framework despite the offered flexibility while better managing the workspaces.
With this, returning to the office is sometimes linked to a reorganization of a workspace, which now has a different use. Many businesses have reduced or modified their office space. Which, also requires another level of adjustment. Reservation systems may also be implemented. Speaking of which, you can read this article on Hot desking and office hoteling which we published last autumn.
Make an Event Out of Returning to the Office
It has to be said, humans are creatures of habit. And change can create anxiety. But we’re also social creatures. To attract employees and create an inviting transition back to office, many organizations foresee holding events to highlight returning to the office. Vennoiseries breakfasts, happy hours, catering services, buffets, sporting events, chair massages, pizza lunches are only some of the examples that I’ve heard of in recent weeks.
By create one, or many events, we’re demonstrating that the workplace offers an added value over working from home. This also enables us to show a convenient and inviting side of the company, which shouldn’t be ignored, especially with new employees.
One of the aspects that should not be underestimated, which comes with working in the office is the importance of water cooler conversation. While they may not always seem productive, these conversations are often very beneficial and you can highlight the importance of them to the employees.
This type of conversation promotes communication, collaboration, the feeling of belonging, company culture and creativity. It’s not for nothing that many have created digital solutions and applications to mimic these impromptu discussions during the pandemic! Even if they’re not always on point, the very fact that they can exist, confirms that impromptu discussions are important. And a few people have confirmed that it wasn’t until they had re-seen their colleagues that they realized how much they had missed them.
Finally, to reduce the reluctance associated with returning to the office, it’s important to explain the reasons why we want everyone to come back to the office. By sharing the objectives, it’s more likely everyone will rally to work towards them.
So, to have a successful return to the office, we have to demonstrate agility and adapt to the needs of the individuals, be willing to listen and respect each individual’s rhythm. This certainly represents a sizeable challenge for businesses, but, during this labor shortage, it’s something that cannot be ignored.
In this spirit, I invite you to join us to discuss your tips to better equip your managers facing the new professional reality. In the last few weeks, many of you have been discussing this topic and I’m certain that your experiences and those of other participants will be very interesting. You can register by clicking here. Looking forward to discussing with you!