After a year of working from home, employees and HR teams across the UK are starting to think about the long-awaited return to the office. Whilst many of us have got used to working in our own home offices (or makeshift desk in the spare room), there have also been a lot of people who are eager to start getting out and having a more clear work/life separation.
Every business will have a different perspective on flexible working, however for the most part employees will be seeing some sort of return to the workplace – whether that’s a fully office-based policy or a more hybrid/phased return to work. Whatever your company’s policy is, this guide provides some practical guidance on how to make everyone at the company feel comfortable with any changes in their work arrangements.
Here are five top tips for how HR teams can help make the transition from remote to office working much smoother:
1. Acknowledge and address your teams’ concerns
Although mass vaccinations have started to ease people’s fears around travelling into the office, some employees may still be hesitant to get back to their usual rush-hour commutes. Listening to your employees’ health and safety concerns is crucial in order to boost staff confidence about returning to the office – it can help you work with the office management team to put practical safety measures in place which will, in turn, reassure your team that you are taking their concerns on board.
Alongside the standard sanitation measures that most companies are doing to make their workplaces Covid-secure, it might also be a good idea to discuss more tailored measures that might address your staff’s worries. Particularly if people are worried about the journey to and from work, you could see whether there is any way of shifting their working hours so that people can avoid travelling during rush hour, or making sure that employees are aware of any company parking spaces so that they can drive instead of taking public transport.
2. Provide clarity and visibility around the decision-making process where possible
Given the level of uncertainty that all businesses and managers are facing coming out of lockdown, it may not be possible to provide an exact timeline of when your team will be expected to return to the office. However, if you can it’s incredibly beneficial to give employees some rough guidance on what their working arrangements will eventually return to. Whether your company is fully committed to office-only working or is more flexible, giving employees a sense of what to expect can help them prepare for the change ahead.
As well as communicating what kind of company policies you’ll be working towards, it’s also a good idea to outline what will be expected of your teams if you do adopt a hybrid work policy. Setting expectations early and delineating the kind of work that they can do at home vs in the office will prevent any future issues or miscommunication. Many employees have concerns about being penalised if they choose to continue remote working when others start going back into the office – it’s a good idea to address these concerns and give reassurances along with a set of guidelines that everyone is happy with.
3. Adapt your company’s HR infrastructure to support dispersed teams
Even if your company is aiming for an office-only policy, the reality of the post-Covid workplace is that many teams are likely to remain dispersed (at least to some extent). Where working from home might have been less common pre-Covid, the past year has changed people’s expectations of work. Whereas many people were used to 5 days a week in the office in 2019, the times have changed and most employees are likely to want at least some allowances for remote working.
If you are willing to allow for some level of hybrid working, make sure that your company’s infrastructure supports it. For example, if you’ve previously had an office gym but are now committed to more flexible working, you might want to instead subsidise passes for a gym chain with multiple locations.
As we’ve covered previously, flexibility is also essential for your childcare benefits offering. Regardless of whether your staff are remote or office workers, having on-demand childcare access is crucial to supporting your parent employees. If you’re looking to ease your staff’s transition to office work, you can provide your staff with Bubble Pro so that they can find focus regardless of their specific work arrangements. As we’ve seen over the past year, the more traditional childcare vouchers or on-site creche can have a lot of constraints and isn’t really fit for the new ways in which your parent staff will be structuring their work.
4. Ensure inclusivity – in every way possible
Whether or not you’re looking to implement a hybrid working policy, it’s vital that your employees feel that valued and positive about their work environment. There can be obstacles that make it harder for some people to come into the office – single parents, for example, often find it more difficult to get reliable childcare cover and therefore are forced to work remotely even if they’d prefer to go into the office. Introverted people may also feel worried about reintegration in the workplace, and particularly burnout if they don’t have enough time to look after themselves.
Equally, it’s important to make sure that everyone feels part of the company culture – as after-work drinks and social events restart, make sure that you enable everyone to attend. This can really help to highlight the positives of working in the office by making the experience of coming in more enjoyable and accessible for everyone, regardless of their working arrangements or general life commitments.
5. Hold onto the positives of remote working
As we move towards the post-Covid landscape, it’s worth reflecting on some of the benefits of remote working which could easily be transferred to in-office work. Technology and digital tools have been a huge help in facilitation clear communication, and have shown us that sometimes an email can be a more efficient substitute to a meeting.
One of the biggest benefits to productivity during remote working has been the way in which employees are able to take ownership of their time during office hours. Whilst this comes with issues of its own, it’s worth considering ways in which your staff could carry this mentality over to an open-plan office. Trialling ‘no-meeting Fridays’ or something similar might enable employees to focus on ‘deep work‘ in the office, rather than feeling that they can only achieve that kind of headspace at home.
Whilst the transition back into office life brings its own challenges, it can also be hugely positive for both employees and the companies they work for. For more information on how Bubble Pro works with businesses to boost the productivity, wellbeing and retention of their parent staff, click here.