As we emerge from the grip of the pandemic, the future of work and the workplace will continue to evolve. People strategies have had to evolve and adapt like never before over the course of the past 18 months. But what does this mean for organisations looking to navigate the coming months as employees begin to return to the office? As lockdown restrictions lift in the UK and beyond, strategies for returning to the workplace will be a key consideration for many employers. Companies will be assessing also the impact that it has had and will have on company culture.

In this blog, we’ll take a look at what workplace programmes and practices will help organisations emerge even stronger in the year to come; how to keep employees happy and ensure a thriving business in the midst of today’s changes; and ways to maintain productivity and a sense of belonging in hybrid work environments.

Strategy 1 – Encourage humanity from the top

Everyone has experienced challenging moments during the pandemic, and there’s no better way for leaders to build stronger relationships with their teams than to be willing to be human, transparent, and honest about the fact they are also going through some difficult times.

Leading with humanity, honesty, authenticity, and empathy also creates human connection, something that has never been so important in today’s hybrid workplace. By showing their humanity, leaders can empower and inspire others to also be their true selves – and bring their best selves to work, whether in person or remotely.

Strategy 2 – Flexibility and support is key

Flexibility and resilience have been two key learnings from the pandemic. With rules and regulations shifting so rapidly, being able to adapt to a new way of working in a very short space of time has been essential. The pandemic has also revised our notion of what an office is. It’s no longer just about a space, but about our relationships with other people. A workplace is about our connection with our colleagues and managers.

An ADP Research Institute study found 44% of employers now have official flexible working policies in place – up from only 24% pre-COVID. The study also revealed that most workers, 65%, are happy about the flexibility of opportunities that they will have in the future. There’s no denying that flexible working is here to stay for many companies in the near future and having a flexible policy in place will be a key consideration for many looking to switch roles or for those younger generations who are joining the workforce.

But it’s also important to keep in mind that remote work isn’t an option for everyone. Due to the nature of a business or the requirements of a role, not all employees have the opportunity (or oftentimes, the desire) to work remotely. People leaders need to support those who are onsite, particularly when people may be experiencing greater stress levels as they return to an empty office that had previously been full of life. Doubling down on recognition for those who have been going onsite throughout this entire pandemic and also for those that will do so moving forward, is vital to uniting the workforce and strengthening culture. What’s more, recognition, such as peer-to-peer social recognition, elevates everyone’s experience, whether at home or in the office – bringing everyone together under one roof of belonging, even when they are physically apart.

Strategy 3 – Keep productivity and wellness front of mind

The transition to remote work has understandably affected all of our productivity and wellbeing – for better and for worse. While we may have cut out our morning commute, we have instead had to juggle teaching the kids with conference calls or fit in walking the dog amongst a flurry of emails.

Working from home has also cut out that all-important in-person human connection. While productivity has remained steady, and even increased for many, speaking with colleagues over video isn’t quite the same as having a chat in the breakroom.

Even with a hybrid model of working, it’s important to encourage people to take the time not only to step away from work, but also to make room for important human moments, whether that’s in the office or online. Because, at the end of the day, if human connection is lacking, then productivity and employee wellbeing will go down.

Strategy 4 – Create a high-trust culture

Whatever the future working model will be, having leaders you can trust to put people first is key. Being human-centric, empathetic, and willing to admit mistakes, as well as being informed about differences – and then embracing and inviting them into your organisation – are all vital skills for leaders now and in the future.

Strategy 5 – Look to the future

The likes of social justice, environmental protection, and other progressive changes will have to (and should!) become priorities in the future in order for companies to attract new talent and thrive in the post-Covid market. People, especially future workforces, want to be part of an organisation that not only does great work, but also has meaning in a bigger context.

Expectations are shifting, and organisations need to be cognisant of the fact that employees are looking to find place to work where they feel they belong, where they can be the best version of themselves and trust that leaders have their best interests at heart. Finally, more will be asked of leaders as they navigate through leading teams that are onsite, hybrid and remote.