As I sat down at my computer in my home office, I was readying myself to write about the return to the office, and how best to manage that transition as the country and world begins to ‘reopen’ from a ‘place of work’ perspective. And then the lunch time news came on the radio and everything changed. The government introduced new restrictions in the UK to help stem the tide of the pandemic and the message of ‘getting back to work’ moved back to ‘work from home if you can’.
This brings about all sorts of dilemmas for organizations and manager. Some companies are already back in the office and need to decide their approach to the new restrictions. Do you send everyone home? Do you have guidelines in place for who needs to be at your place of work and who can work from home? Others have remained fully remote but had team members hopeful to return soon. The good news is that we have all come a long way from being plunged into the unknown of lockdown in late March. We’ve learnt so much about what works and what doesn’t and overwhelmingly know that our businesses and team members can continue to, in the most part, thrive working outside of a central building. Bricks and Mortar do not make the company!
What has become clear is that the most important consideration is communication. It’s no lightbulb moment – we’ve all seen the importance of communication in a remote working life. However, 1-2-1 communication from manager to team is more important than ever. Connection is more important than ever. Knowing what your team members want and need, both now as they either deal with the realisation that they will continue to work from home for the foreseeable future, or have to quickly transition back from a short time back in the office to remote work. Or in the hopefully not too distant future when restrictions lift once more. Understanding your team’s needs has never been more important or more interpersonal.
What are some actions we can take to smooth transition?
- Communicate the plan around working location and transition often and in various ways. You cannot assume that one email or one meeting announcement will be enough for something this big. As you create and implement new company protocols and plans, make sure you have the information you need to clearly explain what’s happening
- Empower managers to continue one-on-one meetings. Everyone experienced lockdown differently, and this transition will continue to post varying challenges. People managers need to be in touch with their team and aware of what is going well and any hurdles they are facing. This information should be tracked and communicated up the chain, if needed. Load suggested questions (like this sample list) for managers to use in their one-on-one agendas to help them collect the information you need about how any return-to-office plan affects your employees. Or indeed a return to remote working for some.
- Check-in on engagement. The transition to working from home affected employee engagement in different ways. Now is a great time to send an engagement survey and collect detailed feedback on how people feel about transitioning working environments and their managers (here’s a useful template). This information will help you decide what company-wide training initiatives to offer, what groups need more catered attention or support, and give you insight on your employees’ engagement levels before any transition back to the office begins.
Finally, start the transition now. Whatever your preparation needs to be, start it early, so it’s less of a shock to your organization when (and if) the office doors reopen.