After nearly a year and a half of working from home due to COVID-19, employees are skeptical about returning to the office. The virus took a toll on everyone’s personal and professional lives, forcing us to have conversations around work flexibility. And employees are no longer compromising their comfort for a paycheck.
Are company leaders willing to change their policies to keep good employees around for the long run?
The success of a business depends on the mental and physical health of its employees. Company leaders should invest, advocate, and move in favor of their team, whether that’s through a remote, in-person, or hybrid schedule. For companies trying to gain and maintain trust with their employees during this transition period, we’ve outlined a few ways you can make your employees feel more comfortable as you welcome them back into the office.
Let employees express their concerns about returning to the office.
Employees are 4.6 times more likely to perform their best work when they feel their voices are being heard. Before you invite your team back into the office, ask them how they feel about it, what their concerns are, and what the company can do to make them feel comfortable. To get feedback, set up 1:1 meetings, small group sessions, and pulse surveys. Some employees may feel more comfortable expressing their thoughts in a group setting, whereas others are more open when submitting answers anonymously. Overall, 58 percent of employees wish their company conducted employee engagement surveys more frequently.
Be understanding and lead with empathy.
Over the last year and a half, people have lost loved ones, experienced financial hardships, and restructured their lives to take care of family members. When discussing back-to-work policies, understand that some employees’ hesitation about returning to work has nothing to do with the company – some people’s lives are simply much easier when working from home. They may not have childcare, or they’ve had to relocate due to financial reasons. They may also have illnesses that make them more susceptible to COVID-19, or disabilities that make it difficult to commute to work every day. Whatever their concerns are, assure them you will be supportive and work together to find a solution that works best for them and the company.
Offer location flexibility.
Offering location flexibility is an opportunity to grow your team and invest in their learning and development. Since March 2020, productivity has increased 47 percent compared to March 2019. Companies have also relied more on technology to operate more efficiently by utilizing email, Zoom, Slack, and customer relationship management systems. Giving employees the autonomy to choose their work location can make them feel valued and increase their motivation to work. Location flexibility also allows you to diversify your team by bringing in people from different cities, states, and even countries.
When offering location flexibility, consider providing employees with a stipend to cover internet, phone usage, and other office supplies.
Set healthy expectations and protocols.
CDC guidelines are constantly changing, but employers can build confidence and engage their employees by assuring them that their health and safety are a primary concern.
Here are other ways businesses can decrease the spread of the virus in their office and make employees feel more safe:
Change up the office space and stagger schedules.
Realigning the floor plan and using appropriate spacing is key to maintaining employee comfort and safety in the workplace. WeWork’s guide for creating a socially-distant floor plan advises organizations to make six-foot buffer zones around each desk, incorporate transparent partitions in areas with face-to-face interactions, and remove seating where social distancing can’t be maintained.
An alternative for offices with limited space is staggering shifts. Staggered shifts or hours can help ease congestion at certain peak hours. Depending on the size of your organization, consider the 5/4/9 plan, where each full-time employee works eight 9-hour days and one 8-hour day for a total of 80 hours in a two-week period, or the 4/10 schedule where each employee works four, 10-hour shifts in one week.
Remember, your employees are creative, resilient, and flexible. Even more, they deserve to know your company is prioritizing their values, comfort, and overall concerns.
Want to further engage your employees as they return to the office?
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Jessicah Raynor is a marketing professional with years of experience in the news and IT industries. She is passionate about storytelling, design, and content creation.
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