The economy recovers, albeit in small steps. Organisations are starting to see some semblance of normalcy. WFH is no longer an industrial default – and workplace leaders are brainstorming for ways to re-acclimatise employees with conventional work environments. However, the return to previous conditions will not be a rapid or straightforward process.
However, with all distractions considered, WFH reportedly increased productivity across some industries. Research shows that the solution simply lied in managing distractions within home settings. WFH initiated a fresh perspective into the essence of employee experiences – one that goes beyond physical space. And while a permanent remote position might not be practical for many organisational roles – it begs the question of a hybrid arrangement.
Returning to the Office – Anticipating Changes
While workers may be returning to the workplace in droves, it does not represent a complete restoration of previous systems. In fact, industry experts say that society may never return to pre-pandemic times – at least not in the foreseeable future.
Employee experiences have changed. There is a pressing need for organisational leaders to prioritise care for individual needs – providing care, support, and understanding that makes employees feel safe and at ease at every step of their return to the office.
Then, there’s the topic of technical support. Specifically, providing employees with the digital solutions for optimal work and contingencies required to tide through any storm of sudden disruptions and downtimes that may occur at any moment.
The workforce is understandably still rattled from the initial wave of troubles and will do what it takes to avoid a second shock. Employers need to remain the backbone of their organisations, making re-integration as seamless as possible.
Managers and decision-makers should ensure that they meet every regulatory compliance in the mass return to the workplace. Deep cleaning, sanitisation, and disinfection will remain a necessary part of operational protocols. Aside from offering direct protection, these procedures will afford workers peace of mind so they may focus on their respective duties.
Additionally, leaders should inform and encourage workers of personal health safety measures, such as taking medical leave when feeling unwell or opting for WFH shifts for a given duration. These small combined efforts contribute to a more responsible and supportive work culture that will keep employees safe and motivated.
On the psychological front, employees should feel safe to voice their perspectives and concerns at any time. Michael C. Bush, CEO of Great Place to Work Inc, describes modern workplace safety, “When people feel they can be themselves at work they are experiencing psychological safety, which also allows them to share their unique perspectives, their diverse experiences and their most creative ideas without fear of criticism that may otherwise stifle them.”
Empathy Should Take Centerstage
Leaders must understand that while every worker went through the pandemic’s disruptive effects, every experience differs. Empathetic leadership will help employees re-tune themselves in the best possible way. As such, leaders should consider giving each worker the time and space they need (within reason) to re-establish themselves at work.
The mindset shift between WFH and at a physical office requires time. Leaders need to assume a sensitive and understanding approach towards workers’ personal challenges that may arise during the re-acclimatization, such as seeking caregivers for children or resistance to returning due to health complications that place them at risk of infection.
Ease Them Into the Move
Leaders should never rush the return process – directions may get lost in translation, causing employees to feel overwhelmed and disengaged. A detailed and robust communication strategy is necessary for keeping teams focused and engaged during the new normal and beyond.
Organisational leaders should brief teams with transparency, informing workers of what to expect in times ahead and how they intend to look out for them. Leaders should rally employees confidently while encouraging open-door policies where no doubt or concern should remain unheard or ignored. Take every complaint or feedback seriously as a vital component in maintaining positive workplace culture.
Additionally, individuals communicate in different ways. A comprehensive open-door policy should include various methods of communication. While some workers may prefer to share their opinions during a scheduled meeting, others may choose to confide through a one-to-one talk in a quiet space. Leaders should ensure that they make the necessary concessions for workers regardless of their preferred communication style.
Organisational leaders should provide regular learning and development opportunities to help returning teams adapt better in their return to the physical workplace. Courses on cyber hygiene, workplace preparedness, creativity, and teamwork will give workers the tools, confidence, and strategies necessary for optimal performance.
The concept of learning has changed in the past year, with more demand placed on organisational soft skills such as agility, social connection, and information processing. Ideally, workers should have greater flexibility and control over their L&D pathways, which empowers and drives employee experiences.
Building Workplace Resilience a Step at a Time
A resilient workforce requires strong communication within the self (thinking through an idea or concept) and others (interpersonal dialogues). Vigilance remains critical as nobody can truly predict the next possible wave of pandemic complications despite the most stringent metrics and data.
Leaders need to practice the art of active listening – where there is more to gain from tuning in to workers than jumping in with a proposed solution. The next phase of the new normal will require a modified communication strategy that focuses on working together and ironing out points of uncertainty.
Thoughtful and collaborative redesign of the workplace will prepare employees for the times ahead. While staff may physically return to their old workstations – everything else has changed. It’s time for a more dynamic workforce ever-ready to cope and thrive with unfamiliar situations – a workforce filled with hope, innovation, and set on creating a brighter future.
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