As vaccines increase and COVID-19 cases decline, the “return to office” question is top of mind for many office workers and employers in the UK and Europe. Whether you’ve been working fully remotely or in-office, employers play a vital role in ensuring workers feel safe and valued in the “new normal.”
After more than a year of living with the COVID-19 virus, some employers are now beginning to ask questions about returning to the office.
Articles about employee resistance to in-office work are going viral, as are opinions from CEOs about the importance of in-office culture. How can company leaders navigate this big, and heated, decision while still providing a great employee experience?
Here are 5 steps business leaders can take to begin the shift to the “new normal” of the modern workplace.
1. Survey employees about remote work
Employers have to consider many different factors when deciding to take their company fully remote.
Local office capacity limits, fears over workers’ personal safety, and government guidelines meant that many office workers have been working from home for more than a year.
Take the pulse of your workforce with an online employee survey about the future of remote work at your company.
Surveying your workforce will help you identify:
- Which workers still live close to your office or worksite
- Who wants to come into the office
- How often your employees want to come into the office (if at all)
Surveys can be attributed to employees names, just to teams, or completely anonymous.
Anonymous surveys protect your employees’ privacy, particularly around sensitive information such as vaccine status. However, anonymous surveys make it difficult to segment responses by team and level at your company.
You can decide whether to make your survey anonymous based on your company culture and established expectations. You can even include questions about remote work as part of regularly scheduled employee feedback.
Running a survey about remote work will also show employees you care about their feelings and feedback before making a big decision about the future of remote work at your company.
2. Review employee feedback and business needs
Once the survey results are in, review your employees’ feedback and assess your business needs before making a decision.
Consider which stakeholders should be involved in reviewing the results and making the strategic decision. When assembling your team, here are a few questions to ask:
- Does your company have a human resources team?
- Is your company small enough that all senior managers can be included in the decision-making process?
- Does your company have a board of directors that needs to be involved in the decision?
Gathering a team of stakeholders from across the company will offer a diverse range of perspectives on the decision to stay remote, take on hybrid work, or come back fully in-person.
Different company leaders can also shed light on different areas of the business and help you understand your company needs. Your human resources lead, for example, can tell you how much longer you have on your office lease and the number of people you would need space for.
Framing your employee survey through the lens of business needs like office space and budget can make the path to a “new normal” clearer for you and your employees.
3. Communicate remote, hybrid, or in-person work rollouts
Once you’ve decided on fully remote, hybrid, or in-person work, it’s time to communicate that decision with your employees.
Remember, how you communicate a tough decision can be just as important as the decision itself. As a company leader it’s hard to make everyone happy, but empathetic internal communication builds trust within your company regardless of the decision made.
Start by making an internal communication plan with your marketing team, ideally one that launches well before the “official” rollout of the work policy.
You can send an official company-wide email, or even a video where you briefly explain the new work policy, why the policy was chosen, and when workers can expect their workday to change.
4. Create guidelines for internal communication
Whether you’re going back fully in-person or embracing hybrid work, your team’s internal communication will probably look different from how it looked before.
Setting a company-wide standard for internal communication, such as instant messaging, phone calls, and emails, will help your team adjust to the “new normal” of office work.Take stock of how and where your team communicates the most. Are you an email-first company? Or do your teammates communicate on Slack or Microsoft teams? When is it important to talk about something over the phone or on Zoom? These are all questions your managers and leaders can answer.
At GetAccept, we implemented internal communication guidelines to align teams across different countries. Setting boundaries on communication outlets like Slack helps our team get the right messages to the right channels. Internal communication guidelines also improve the employee experience and work-life balance. Something as simple as saying “employees are not expected to respond to messages outside of working hours or while on vacation” can go a long way for a global team working together across time zones.
5. Create opportunities for informal events, in-person and virtual
After more than a year of isolation, teams and team leaders are ready to meet old and new teammates in person. Informal events, both in-person and virtual, help business leaders to keep the company connected through your new working style.
National lockdowns easing mean more opportunities for in-office workers to gather outside of the office. GetAccept’s Norway office, for example, recently took advantage of Oslo's reopening and planned an after-work outing.
In places where restaurants and bars are limited, you can plan virtual events that connect people safely. Some fun virtual activities include:
- Virtual step or mileage competitions
- Zoom talent shows
- Online trivia or other games
Offering a healthy mix of online and in-person events will be especially important for companies pursuing a hybrid remote and in-office working style, and for companies with offices in different parts of the world.
Create a great employee experience as you return to an in-person or virtual office
This past year has been unquestionably tough for workers, but that doesn’t mean the next year has to be. Creating a great employee experience in the “new normal” is possible, whether you’re going back fully in-person, or embracing remote or hybrid work.
Start by asking what your employees want and taking their feelings about remote and in-person work into consideration. Then, work with your team to evaluate employee feedback in the context of business needs.
Once you make your decision about remote or in-person work, communicate it to your team and introduce guidelines for internal communication that will make the transition easier. Finally, be sure to dedicate some time to fun outside of work with virtual and in-person events.
Wonder what a hybrid remote work environment looks like at a global company? Learn more about GetAccept, a global SaaS company leading the charge on virtual and in-person employee experiences.
This is a guest post by Kelsey McKeon, US Content Marketing Manager at GetAccept.