When the Covid-19 pandemic struck in 2020, many businesses were rapidly thrust into work-from-home arrangements. While some companies plan to stay remote for the long haul, others may want — or need — to bring their employees back into the office, whether full-time or as part of a hybrid working arrangement.
Many professionals have developed a preference for remote work, and others may be anxious about safety, family care and other issues. This can make transitioning back to in-office work tricky. It’s up to leaders to develop a plan that balances company and employee needs as well as to guide their teams through the transition. To help, 11 members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share their top tips to help leaders return to in-person operations.
1. Determine what work must be done in person.
Review what work requires in-person collaboration and what can be done remotely. When possible, a hybrid model of remote and in-person work will help support a healthy work-life balance in the near future. If work output drops, then create a plan for in-person re-engagement. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising
2. Be aware of your team members’ circumstances.
Make your expectations and timelines clear. Some will welcome the return; others will be hesitant. Be mindful of the varied situations and opinions throughout your organization and be thoughtful in how you communicate your plans. – Jared Knisley, Fizen Technology
3. Be flexible and honest.
Listen, and be flexible and honest about what you need your people to do. Let your team know how you are feeling and be honest with them — including the good, the bad and the ugly. Consider what your clients need, what your people need and what the business needs, then provide a safe environment where people are happy to speak up and express what they need to do their job to the best of their ability. – Joanna Swash, Moneypenny
4. Understand people’s personal challenges.
The pandemic has taught business leaders the importance of flexibility. As you welcome employees back to the office, be open and understanding of each employee’s personal challenges and comfort level at work so you can make reasonable accommodations. It’s important that employees feel supported and safe as they readjust, and employers who provide that will be rewarded with happy and loyal employees. – Melea McRae, Crux KC
5. Foster open and clear communication.
Remember your strength lies in the individuals who make up your team. Each member may experience a range of emotions, and these need to be managed sensitively. Foster open and clear communication of expectations. When we began the process of coming back to the office, we met with remote workers in groups of three to four to discuss concerns and next steps and then began to slowly ramp up our return to the workplace. – Scott Young, PennComp Outsourced IT
6. Talk to each team member individually.
Once you get the temperature of the team, make decisions and move forward. In some situations, making accommodations will work; in others, it won’t. Ultimately, you have to do what is best for the business. – David Sprinkle, Veritas Recruiting Group
7. Listen to employees’ fears.
Assure employees that you’ve taken the necessary precautions recommended by the CDC to clean offices and provide spacing. The goal is to get back to normal. If the new normal is remote work, then embrace it. However, I think interaction among employees sparks creativity and friendships and boosts the overall satisfaction of working for a company. – Timothy Haluszczak, SteelBridge Labs
8. Make the transition gradual.
Do not bring on the change all at once — an attempt to get all employees back to the office at the same time might cause disruption and unanticipated challenges. Decide which teams most need to be in the office and proceed with a stepwise process of shifting back. Some employees might be very comfortable working at home, and a sudden change might perplex them. – Alina Clark, CocoDoc
9. Schedule in-person collaborative time for big issues.
If businesses learn nothing else from managing in the face of a pandemic, it’s that face-to-face collaboration can’t be understated. As companies push for employees to return to the office, it’s worth scheduling in-person collaborative time on the big issues. Just as important is allowing people to work a few days a month from home, reducing stress and potentially increasing productivity. – John Palter, Palter Sims Martinez PLLC
10. Be gentle.
We are all in this together, but we aren’t all processing at the same pace. Humans perform best when we are happy. Even if synergy is best in person, a slow and easy pace for re-entry will allow everyone to adapt successfully within their own time horizon. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management
11. Take it slow.
The tip that I would offer leaders is to go slowly — don’t try to welcome everyone back into the office full time at once. Select teams to start the transition and slowly get to full capacity. Additionally, ensure that all of the appropriate safety precautions are in place. – Jerry Ramos, Ramos Consulting, LLC