Want Your Employees Back at the Office? Here are a Few Ways to Ease the Transition

HBS Online sponsored a survey for professionals who worked remotely during the coronavirus shutdown from March 2020 to March 2021. These professionals were asked to compare the previous year to the current year.

The survey showed that 81% of respondents either did not want to return to the office or preferred a hybrid work model. Of these respondents, 27% wanted to remain working remotely full-time. Sixty-one percent preferred to work remotely 2 or 3 days a week. Only 18% wanted to return to the office full-time.

Given these survey results, most of your employees likely do not want to return to the office. However, as a leader, you must motivate your team to return and stay engaged during the transition.

The degree of flexibility your company offers will impact the move back to the office. The more control your employees have over their work structure, the more inclined they should be to transition.

Follow these guidelines to ease your employees’ transition back to the office.

  • Be Transparent

Share with your employees the company’s reasoning behind its policies. Keep in mind you might not have answers to all of their questions.

Let your employees know about any upcoming changes and how your team may be impacted. Managing expectations helps ease the transition back to the office.

Show empathy when listening to your employees’ concerns and disappointments. Be aware that their expectations for flexibility might not be met.

Avoid apologizing for how things are and saying they are out of your control. Showing helplessness or defensiveness typically causes additional issues.

  • Balance Remote Work Policies

If your employees can work remotely, talk with them about how to modify the rules for individual circumstances while maintaining fairness. You want to reestablish team cohesion without causing resentment over arrangements made to support an individual member’s circumstances.

Start by determining each employee’s needs and preferences. Next, explain the discretion you have to let them work remotely. Then, work with your employees to find ways to balance flexibility and fairness.

Create work practices that impact where and when work happens. Your employees likely will commit to the solutions they helped develop.

For instance, ensure meetings include video links so employees working remotely can participate. Or, set the work hours when everyone must be available online.

  • Promote a Positive Environment

Create a sense of happiness for being back in the office. Remind your employees of the rituals, celebrations, and in-person conversations that can take place again.

Humor can be an effective method to lighten the atmosphere. You may want to share funny stories about working from home to promote laughter. Examples include having kids or pets show up during online meetings.

PwC’s June 2020 US Remote Work Survey showed that 50% of employees felt collaboration and relationship building were more effectively done in person. Encouraging your employees to reconnect with each other can help them see the benefit of returning to the office.

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