Physically transitioning to your 'new normal' way of working at the office
Planning for the reintroduction of employees into the office can be a bit confusing as there are a few factors to consider- first and foremost are health and safety measures, but then there are the emotional needs of employees, familial support, the stark reality of how it was pre-covid and how it will actually be from here on.
Here is a guide for different methods of returning to work after lockdown measures are lifted.
Firstly, you’ll need to be wary of your employees that can not immediately return to the office for familial or health reasons. Then there are those that will not be excited about returning to work, in fact, they may be quite nervous. Expecting employees to jump straight back to the old ways will create some anxiety, unease and general unhappiness. Be patient, express empathy and realise that they have been successfully working from home all this time, so giving them a little longer will do no harm.
Alexis George, deputy CEO at ANZ says “I don’t think any of us realised we would have 11 odd thousand people working productively from home in such a short period of time... it will allow people to have choices moving forward.”
To support all employees you need to set clear expectations and have a few options on the table. Employees will need to be brought back into the office with a staggered approach. When it is safe to do so, have the office open to those who want to, but maintain a mostly online presence to include everyone. Understand that people might only come into the office for two or three days of the week, or none at all.
Fortunately, you now have the tools to build up and focus on maintaining open communication, and you can gather regular feedback to see how everyone is feeling about the transition. This way you can cater to those needing more time to feel comfortable switching up their routine again while still understanding, from a business sense, how, when and what your team office dynamics will look like moving forward.
On returning back to the office, keep expectations low otherwise the event may be anticlimactic. For starters, the office won’t look or feel the same. There are likely to be empty desks spacing people out, protective partitions, and overall less people. There will be strict rules to ensure it is a hygienic, safe environment, being a stark contrast to the previously buzzing, full and intermingling space you had pre-covid.
Don't let this be a dampener on returning back to the office though. In fact, this is the perfect time to introduce the new ways of working that you want to see in the future. Don’t try and replicate the pre-covid ways of working and its associated office culture, but get the team excited about the new initiatives you have planned!
Once you start drip feeding the team in, next be aware of new routines that each individual will have created to fit in with their WFH lifestyle. Employees will either continue this routine at the office, or find a new one they think will be more effective. Trust your team during this process and you’ll both come out on top in the long run.
Even though the office will be quieter to begin with, distractions will still be flying around left right and centre. Being able to communicate face-to-face, ask questions, and crack a joke, may result in less productivity in the office. All of a sudden, those in the office are overstimulated in comparison to days spent in the ‘home office’. This will lessen over time as everyone adjusts.
Always remember, anything interesting, fun or special that is happening in the office needs to be communicated and shared with those still working from home. Think about having a dedicated ‘office-remote correspondent’ to be responsible for updating slack channels about office occurrences or even posting photos.