As vaccination rates go up and the end of the COVID-19 pandemic is in sight, there is more discussion about returning to the office. Many people are feeling anxious about this change, including those who have discovered a preference for working from home. Read on for ideas on how managers and employers can redefine working in-person.
The Challenge of Redefining a Workplace
- Hybrid workplaces (remote and in-person) require considerable thought as power, visibility and connection are issues. Employees that are in the office are more visible than their remote counterparts and may be recognized more for their efforts or tapped for special projects or even promoted or rewarded financially. It is essential that managers and individuals in positions of power recognize this bias and work to level the playing field.
- Access to individuals in positions of power/authority is easier for individuals working in-person assuming that managers are in the office too. Employers need to recognize this imbalance and work to increase their accessibility to all employees in the workplace. Greater access to higher levels can mean more mentoring, training and simply being in the know.
- Creating a welcoming and safe environment is essential in reducing anxiety about returning to working in-person. Employees that return to the office are now looking for spaces and places to connect with co-workers and managers for projects that require collaboration. Generally speaking, employees do not want to return to do work that they can accomplish individually from home.
- Restructuring office space in a way that permanently recognizes space requirements for COVID-19 safety protocols instead of make shift set-ups will communicate that employee well-being is top of the mind. Providing spaces for people to rejuvenate, relax and recharge during the day will be important. The pandemic has changed people’s expectations of the workplace.
- Encourage staff to talk about their anxieties related to returning to the office. Informal anonymous surveys are only the start of this process. Some individuals will not necessarily feel comfortable speaking up about their needs and others will not trust a survey to be anonymous. A multi-pronged approach to returning to the office is needed and thorough research must be done to protect everyone – their health and their rights. For instance, not everyone will feel comfortable working closely with others when the vaccine status of each individual is unknown.
- Developing clear policies in collaboration with employees around wearing masks, physical distancing and other COVID-19 safety protocols is important. No one wants to go into a workplace that doesn’t have policies or the means to enforce those policies. For example, will everyone wear a mask? What will happen when masks are not being worn properly?
- Communicate extensively regarding why it is necessary to come back into the office. Explaining the “why” is important so people do not feel like they have been forced or coerced into returning.
Finally and most importantly have compassion. Please be kind to your staff as returning to in-person or hybrid models develop. Patience is key as we all adjust to the new world of work.
Listening. Guiding. Caring.