Three Tips to Prepare for Returning to The Office

Author: Chris Swan and John Ryan

How prepared would be if you had to return to the office right now?

Whether gripped by fear or thrilled with excitement, at some point sooner than later, you will need a pragmatic answer to this question as companies ask workers to transition from fully remote work to some form of a return to the office.

To that end, a CNBC report noted Amazon recently informed staff about a gradual return over the summer and an “office-centric culture as our baseline”  by the fall. An Amazon memo stated being in-office “enables us to invent, collaborate, and learn together most effectively.”

JPMorgan Chase is planning for half their team members to be back in the office on a recurring, rotating basis in July.

“We would fully expect that by early July, all U.S.-based employees will be in the office on a consistent rotational schedule, also subject to our current 50% occupancy cap,” the bank said in a memo, reported earlier by Bloomberg News. “With this timeframe in mind you should start making any needed arrangements to help with your successful return.”

While most organizations plan employing a hybrid return to work model – a mix of virtual and on-site work - being ready for any and all formats is pivotal. We are pleased to provide practical advice from experts on how you and your organization can prepare for it.

1.Make safety is the top priority.

Undoubtedly, many employees will be concerned about contracting the virus when they return to work. That’s why organizations must do what they can to ensure the physical work environment is safe, both for their employees’ health and to allay fears.

“We need to recognize many people will be worried about the work environment being safe, so firms must be very thoughtful about things like physical distancing in the office, masks, sanitizers and good air filtration,” said Joan Zofnass, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and Head of Internal HR with Environmental Financial Consulting Group.

“Organizations need to stay up to date on the latest health and safety protocols and proceed with caution.”

2.Flexibility and empowering employees are essential.

A survey published by PWC earlier this year found somewhat of a disconnect regarding what leaders and employees expect regarding their schedules when returning a physical workplace. The majority of employees - 55% - prefer the flexibility of being remote at least three days a week once pandemic concerns recede. Conversely, 68% of executives say a typical employee should be in the office at least three days a week.

What this survey illustrates is that employees are seeking a fair degree of choice and personal flexibility. For their morale, engagement and productivity, companies would be wise to support them in doing so.

“I think organizations are going to have to be open to hear where their employees are, what they want and not set up a one-size fits all standard,” said Zofnass.

Other experts agree.

“To be successful, employees need to feel comfortable being open and candid about how they feel and what works for them,” said Vanessa Ruda, Ph.D., an organizational psychologist and senior partner with RHR International. “That doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all, but it comes down to employees feeling they have a flexible schedule and an environment that enables them to work and perform well. From my own personal experience, I know that when employees feel the organization supports their needs, they will reciprocate and work hard.”

3.Emphasize company culture and relationships.

An impromptu chit-chat by the water cooler. Coffee break with a colleague. Team lunch and learns. These used to be ‘normal’ activities we did in-person with our workmates. They helped nurture meaningful personal connections and engendered fun, friendly and familial company cultures.

As many of us prepare to return to an office at least some of the time, these types of activities are pivotal and should be reintroduced thoughtfully, as people will need to adjust and adapt to the ‘old normal.’

“I recommend taking time to let people get reacquainted with one another by setting up small group interactions,” Ruda said. “For people who generally look for a sense of community and affiliation, create opportunities where they can get together, keeping in mind this past year has been really difficult for them.”

Moreover, in the hybrid context, it’s key for workers at home while to be included. For example, if there is a lunch and learn in the office, organizations should make the effort to send food to their remote workers and have them join simultaneously on zoom or another video conferencing platform.

The bottom line is best summed up by famed Yale University Professor William Graham Sumner, who once said, “What we prepare for is what we shall get.” Prepare well for the return and success is far more probable.

How prepared would be if you had to return to the office right now?

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