How to bring your team out of their home working shells

After more than a year apart, many businesses are now making plans to welcome their employees back into the workplace again. Remote working has been a test for companies during lockdown; while some have thrived and experienced growth, others have suffered under the pressure to quickly adapt. 

Staff have continued to work throughout the uncertainty and strain of a global pandemic, having no choice but to adapt to working from home. This has been an extremely lonely period for some employees away from co-workers and impractical in terms of working conditions, creating office spaces out of bedrooms. For others, this has been a much more positive experience, having realised the added flexibility this type of working brings to their daily lives; avoiding the morning commute and finding more time to factor in exercise.

After all this time, there will naturally be a bit of a buzz about returning to office life and seeing colleagues in person again. At the same time, this excitement could be mixed with a sense of anxiety after 15-18 months of very limited socialising and shielding for some. To encourage teams out of their home working shells, employers should invite them back to an environment that feels safe and inspires collaboration.  

Here is some advice for bringing employees back to the office again, post-COVID:

Allow for a gentle transition period at work

During lockdown, people have formed new and different habits that didn’t exist in the office or before COVID-19 entered our lives. Employees should feel excited to come into the office for the first time, not pressured by management, and so planning for a gradual return will prevent any feelings of overwhelm or heightened anxiety from such a big change.

This period will also take some pressure off those who will need to make plans outside of work, such as childcare support, and even care for pets who were bought during lockdown! 

Let all staff know about the mental health support available

If not already, then mental health support must be in place. Research by Mind has shown that over two thirds of adults with mental health problems have experienced worsened mental health since the pandemic. The aim for all businesses should be to normalise conversations about mental health at work, and that comes from the very top - showing compassion, empathy and support for all mental health concerns.

Ensure that employee time is respected

As life returns back to normal again, it's important for businesses to get this next phase right for their employees, explains Sam Hill, Head of People at BizSpace.

Lockdown has confirmed for some people that working remotely fits their needs and lifestyles better than the office, and so re-adjusting may not feel as enjoyable for them. Respecting employees' time and offering a more flexible work routine in the long-term will help employees to feel listened to and valued.

Businesses have realised that video meetings are just as effective, so forcing workers into the office unnecessarily could be a cause for frustration. Whilst organising events in-person is now a possibility, it's important for businesses to consider what meetings are actually necessary for the office and what can be scheduled online.

Encourage people to communicate openly 

Every business should aspire for a culture that makes every individual feel comfortable and listened to. Communication will change from scheduled video meetings to in-person meetings and catch-ups around the water cooler.

The return of face-to-face communication could trigger social anxiety for some individuals, which means that open conversations must be had in advance to discuss what each employee is comfortable with. Line managers should also aim to schedule regular 1-to-1 meetings with their team to regularly check in and identify any growing concerns.  

It will be useful to have a clear return-to-office plan in place for all staff to read through beforehand, helping to better prepare employees for their return and hopefully get rid of any lingering anxieties.  

Create a workplace culture that is fun and collaborative

Building strong relationships at work is more important now than ever for teams who have worked remotely for so long, and even more so for those who were hired during lockdown.

Making time for social activities outside of the office will help to form valuable friendships, and ultimately establish a workforce that cares about the work that they do as well as the people that they work with. 

Many companies will be keen to re-establish the status quo at work now that restrictions have lifted. However, business leaders who listen to the needs of their staff and strike the right balance between remote working and the perks of having an office, will be rewarded with a team that is collaborative, productive and happy.

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