Ways business leaders can care, connect and celebrate when returning to the office
As many of us start to prepare for the return to the office, we recognise how fortunate we are to be getting to this stage. It is invigorating that life is getting back to some reminiscence of normality.
Not everyone around the globe has been able to get to this stage. However it is also important to remember that the last 18 months have turned people’s lives upside down and that has made us adapt our daily routines accordingly.
And so, at Perkbox we believe that any return to the office plan should get organisations to care for, connect with and celebrate their workforce.
Show employees you care
1. Make flexibility the norm
Forward thinking leaders and organisations are quickly realising that they need to rethink their stance on flexible working. This includes challenging their understanding of what flexible working actually means to create something unique and helpful to both their business and employees. While office-based businesses may find it easier to be flexible, employees who can’t work remotely shouldn’t be left out of the flexible working equation. We have pulled together a checklist to help you think through how to be more flexible in your own organisation.
2. Build empathy and trust
We all experienced the pandemic differently, and we will all have noticed things about ourselves and the way we work. Some of us will have realised that we are far more efficient and productive at home doing certain tasks, and others will have noticed that they gain so much more energy by being around others—so our individual preferences for being in the office will vary.
Educating employees to be empathetic of each other’s circumstances is therefore an important step. We can’t assume that everyone around us works best in a particular environment, and so respecting our colleagues' choices of where they work is crucial. Trusting them to know where and how to perform their job is a must.
Encourage managers and employees to stop using physical presence as a measure of someone’s engagement or commitment. Some organisations have mistakenly done that for far too long. Instead, judge people on their output and make sure to give equal praise for a job well executed, whether someone is working in the office or from home.
3. Encourage continued healthy habits
Employers are realising that they can play a significant role in employees’ wellbeing and are looking for solutions to make their people happier and, ultimately, healthier. Although this may seem daunting at first, there are a few simple steps each company can take to get them closer to this role.
The first is to ensure that whatever healthy habits people have formed during the pandemic are given a chance to survive the return to work. Ask your employees what those have been and work with them to incorporate them into their new workday.
Some of your employees may have started to exercise during the day, whether that is by way of simple longer walks, online training, or other outdoor activities. Think of ways to remove any imaginary barriers that pop up as a result of a return to the office. Can you be flexible with start times and lunch breaks? Can employees work from home on certain days so that they can continue some of that routine?
Similarly, some of your employees may have started to eat better as they have had a chance to prepare their own food. Think of ways to encourage these habits. Can you better equip your kitchen to allow them more prep space or install additional fridges to encourage people to bring their own food? Perhaps you can even supply staple healthy ingredients. Find out directly from them how you can equip your kitchen area to encourage better eating habits. You will be surprised at how much can be done within health and safety guidance.
4. Think of the complete employee wellbeing experience
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Although you will always find yourselves with unique employee needs, which require your creativity, most of your employees’ requirements can be resolved through available, well thought-out solutions. The important thing is to make sure that you address the emotional and physical as well as financial wellbeing of your employees.
[At the risk of tooting our own horn, this is where we believe Perkbox customers really benefit as their employees are able to turn to Perkbox as all-in-one platform for their wellbeing needs, whether they are looking for dedicated apps, resources, curated discounts, professional advice or even structured counselling.
Connect with your employees
1. Watch out for distance or recency biases
Distance and recency biases are cognitive biases that favour those closest to you, and recent events. In simple terms, those physically closest to you or those who you may have interacted with more recently tend to get more of your attention. Unconsciously, you will think they are better or more important.
How can we combat these unconscious biases?
For managers – The good news is that like any other bias, being aware of it, is the first step. Managers should always be thinking about our whole team. In hybrid teams, we are naturally susceptible to distance bias, causing remote workers to feel they are “out of sight, out of mind.” Managers have a responsibility to make sure that every team member is supported, and receives the information and tools they need to do their job. When handing out projects, or considering filling a new role, managers should make a conscious effort to consider everyone on the team.
Managers should also ensure they interact with every direct report on a regular basis so that they are all top-of-mind as opportunities come up.
Managers should also be mindful of how decisions are made. Some team members, while in the office, may find themselves making decisions over a cup of coffee. While these informal interactions are great and can save time, it’s important to reflect on whether important stakeholders have been left out. Don’t ban or eliminate these spontaneous conversations, but encourage the team to follow them up with chats involving all stakeholders before anything is set in stone.
For employees – The good news here is that unlike other biases, to some extent, we can actually control this one. We should try as much as possible to make ourselves memorable! Think about how long it’s been since your last interaction with your manager or colleagues. Be proactive, request meetings, provide updates, ask questions at meetings, participate in social activities (whether they are in person or virtual).
2. Cater to both your introverts and extroverts
You may have noticed during lockdown that remote activities resulted in participation from different types of individuals. People that may not have been first in line for your office karaoke event may suddenly have been among the more active participants in some online challenges.
Moving forward, it will be important for you to find ways to mix up social gatherings. Bring back fun live activities but also sprinkle a few of your successful lockdown activities in between so you can cater to everyone.
A fun way to highlight every type of individual might be through light-hearted and celebratory office polls.
- Beyond the call of duty: who has recently gone above and beyond?
- The silent achiever: who has been kicking goals under the radar?
- WFH warrior: who has been smashing it while working from home?
- Helping hand: who has given you a little extra support at work?
3. Create a hub for communication
Knowing where to go for a varied array of employee information can make life so much easier and less stressful for employees. This is something that is often overlooked but can create lots of anxiety for employees. Do employees know where to find their benefits, company policies, latest information on what’s happening across the organisation? Don’t make them search in multiple places.Instead, provide them with one place to go. At Perkbox, we don’t have an intranet, so we use our platform’s Culture Hub. Perkbox team members can head here to access benefits, our monthly calendar of activities, our return to the office plan, our desk booking system, our Town Hall and ‘Let’s Talk’ recordings, Lunch & Learn information and more.
Celebrate hard work and milestones
1. Provide a space for employees to recognise one another
A great place to start is to make sure recognition for achievement is given equal spotlight, no matter where someone is working. Find ways to get employees across the remote/non-remote divide, to recognise each other. You may want to start a campaign to get employees to recognise someone they haven’t physically seen in a while, but who has made a positive impact on them or the business. Eventually campaigns of this sort won’t be necessary as recognition becomes more organic across the organisation.
A simple and user-friendly digital solution, such as the Perkbox platform will make this so much easier. Having said that, at Perkbox, we also know that incorporating digital technology with ‘old fashioned’ recognition can be really impactful. When a manager learns about someone’s great work through a digital channel, they can easily give a shout-out about it in a meeting. This will show people that, not only do their colleagues recognise their work, but that online recognition, in general, has a wide reach.
2. Associate the physical office with celebration
Now, when it comes to space, ask yourself, “why are people coming into work?” Surely the thought of getting on a train and commuting into work, to simply sit in front of a computer screen, is no incentive to anyone. So think about what might be. Is your office conducive to collaboration, to learning, to celebrations? Do you have the space, the proper technology—in short, is it an appealing place to be? Having an attractive space to bring people together, once in a while, will go a long way to forge relationships and ultimately combat any cultural divide.
Whatever your own plans are for the return to the office, remember that a successful return will have your employees’ wellbeing at the centre of it. You will likely need to make tweaks along the way, but this is the opportune time to get started. Trust that when we make life better for employees and make their experience at work more enjoyable, it will result in a better run business.