A Guide to Returning to the Office After Working from Home

A Guide to Returning to the Office After Working from Home

Office Workers with face masks back at work


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Return to… the Office?

After a year of remote work, businesses are transitioning back to office work.  According to FlexJobs, approximately 96% of those who have been working remotely desire to continue some level of remote work options. As an employer, how do you support your teams and navigate returning to the office? Here are 5 things to consider for this transition:

Be Gentle

2020 was an emotionally taxing year for all of us. Whether your employees retained full time employment, experienced periods of furlough, or were laid off completely, the entire work culture changed. Just as the initial adjustment to working from home was stressful, returning to the office and suddenly being separated from children, spouses and the pets we inevitably adopted during quarantine, will also be a challenging adjustment. Demonstrating empathy in the workplace and acknowledging that this is a difficult transition for many, will validate your employees’ feelings of discomfort and communicate that they are understood.

Make the Office Safe and Enjoyable

Along with practicing empathy, employers may want to enhance the office space for an overall more comfortable experience. While open floor plans have seen a push in recent years, this has yet to be proven as a successful format. Well-known organizational psychologist Adam Grant has made an argument against open floor plans for some time. And with its lack of possible appropriate social distancing, the pandemic highlighted an additional downfall to this model. While cubicles and offices are isolating, there is a happy medium to be found in separate togetherness. For example, individual desks can be distanced appropriately within open coworking lounges. If climate and office architecture permit, there may even be an option to utilize outdoor access. These setups could provide adequate space to practice social distancing and work on solo tasks, while still fostering an environment of collaboration and the ability to comfortably work with one another.  Similarly, encouraging office workers to take small group meetings of 2-3 persons outside provides a reprieve from the office, daily movement and safe social interaction.

Prepare a WFH Policy

Working from home productively has shown the resilience of our workforce. Despite distractions of homeschooling, household duties, and trying to navigate changed personal and professional interactions, people have continued to push through and add value. While the in-office experience can’t be replaced by Zoom, employees that have proven to be an asset over the past year should be granted a level of trust and autonomy. With more than 60% of the workforce interested in a hybrid schedule, a work-from-home policy should be established before employees return to the office, offering an improved work-life balance for those who wish to take advantage of this new model.  However, do clarify expectations as to how many days a week employees are to be in the office, what an acceptable work from home schedule looks like, and evaluate equipment mobility. Most importantly, provide clarity on what metrics went into the planning of your policy so there is transparency into the decision process.

Find Solutions to Predict the Unpredictable

The pandemic proved to all of us how unpredictable life can be. For businesses large and small, it affected revenue, headcount, product inventory, and changed the way we manage and forecast our workload. While no software could have predicted COVID-19, we can use new technological solutions to grow and evolve from this experience. Utilizing AI-powered tools to create a demand forecast that takes into consideration internal historical data as well as external data can paint a remarkably accurate picture of future business demands. With a reliable forecast, key HR benchmarks like employee retention and increases in headcount become data driven decisions. Utilizing technology to advance business operations is how we will continue to not just survive, but thrive.

Increase Employee Engagement

While employees were working from home, staying focused on the day-to-day tasks was essential to continued success of a company. Trust and autonomy to independently make decisions without a supervisor leads to an employee feeling empowered and often improves work relationships between supervisor and team member. Additionally, when the right employees are in the right places at the right times, decisions get made faster and employees feel more engaged with the tasks at hand. To perpetuate this feeling in-office, employees need to feel encouraged and supported in making decisions. Scheduling employees based on their skills and productivity to mirror the demand forecast, sets them up for success and is a simple way to increase engagement.

Author: Stacey Giffin

Stacey is Sales Development Representative at Weave Workforce, a labor optimization company applying artificial intelligence to predict and harmonize employee schedules with the fluctuating demand of service businesses.  Stacey believes in win-win relationships between clients and customers, and has a passion for technology – so leveraging AI to improve employee utilization and reduce a company’s operating costs is a natural fit for her.

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