Remote Working and Flexibility - Supporting your team in the return to the office

One thing in particular that has come to light over the last 18 months and that is how flexible and adaptable we all are, not just as individuals in our home lives, or as employees in our roles, but also as employers with teams of people to “look after”. With that, those organisations that have gone above and beyond to look after and support their teams have not gone unnoticed and have shown that it has strengthened their bond with their employees, and as a result there is increased trust, a heightened sense of loyalty and an all-round great working environment. But, we want to make sure this doesn’t stop here as people return to the office, so the question is: how can we ensure we maintain this level of support and flexibility as teams gradually trickle back to a physical work place?

The pending return to the office is met with various reactions: anxiety, excitement, laziness, energy, trepidation, relief, tiredness and much more. As an employer it’s important to make sure you are sensitive to all those feelings, amongst others, and you reach out to individuals to understand how the return to the office might affect people, and ask questions to see how it might impact on their lives now. By doing this, you will be demonstrating that as an employer you recognise that the world has changed, and people’s day to day lives and routines have changed, as well as their priorities. In order for your team to continue to be as productive at work in the office as they have been at home they will need reminding that you, as an employer, are there to support them and willing to be flexible to find solutions where possible. Many organisations have found that a “Wellness Action Plan” has been hugely valuable in understanding how people are feeling about the return to the office, and reiterates that, as a Manager, you are listening to your team whilst also helping individuals prepare themselves for the return.   Another great tool to check-in on your teams’ levels of happiness is through an Employee Engagement Survey, this is a great way to ensure inclusivity for the full mix of working patterns – those working fully remote, office-based, or hybrid – to understand how content and motivated people are and any worries or concerns they might have.

Having listened to your team and understood their work needs, the first step would be to ensure there is a rough plan in place for the return to the office, with a timeline, making expectations clear of how frequently you would ideally look to have your team members in the office – it’s also helpful at this stage for people to understand why you would like them in the office, so ensure you communicate the reasons for office time. For instance, if you have a new team member who has not yet had the chance to meet the rest of the team face-to-face, make clear that it’ll be a great opportunity for them to get to know one another, as well as learn from others in the team. With a rough plan in place (and we say “rough” because, as we all know, things can change quickly and people may need to adapt as time goes by) it’s also a good idea to invite suggestions for improved ways of working if you feel there is room for trying something different, for example, using an online communication tool to ensure close and regular collaboration between office and remote team members.  With the plan hatched of when and how often people will ideally be visiting the office, simultaneously communicate the health and safety precautions that are in place so as to provide reassurance to people of the safety measures being taken. As the weeks go by and employees get more and more used to the “back to office” routine, check-in with your team to find out how they are getting on with the return. Some might be looking to spend more days than specified in the office, and some might be finding it a struggle to re-balance childcare and the commute, whereas others might be concerned about the cost of travel if it’s the first time they are regularly visiting the office, so talking it through with individuals will help you to help them address any concerns.

It’s also a great opportunity as people return to the office to spruce-up the workplace – make sure it’s an attractive and inviting place to work where people feel comfortable and have the space they need.  Another essential ingredient to a fruitful work environment that we have been missing over the past year and a half is team-building which is fantastic for team moral, motivation and support, so where you can offer an incentive or reward for team success, or “just because”, why not organise a team activity, or team lunch, bringing people together to help to build relations between individuals and teams. You might also want to re-visit training and development plans for your team as people’s skillsets and learning goals might have changed over time, and this can also be a great way to show your support for continuous career development and will go a long way to retaining that top talent.

Company updates and information is something else that plays a pivotal role in supporting your team, as people will be looking to hear from their leader as to how the business has fared over the course of the pandemic and they will want reassurance about the health of the business and their long term job security.

All in all, the key to demonstrating your continued support as teams return to the office is: transparency, open lines of communication and flexibility to find solutions. We have already proven how adaptable and capable we are when it comes to remote working and change, so let’s continue on that same path as we gradually settle back into the office routine, and remember that change is constant, so we need to be constantly supporting our teams to ensure success. Further insight and advise can be found in the case study and whitepaper “Investing in the Return – the case of furloughed staff” that Inspired Selection published in June 2020 which outlines best practice around managing the furlough process both from an operational and also wellbeing perspective. It draws upon first-hand experience, interviews with business leaders and HR directors within publishing and interviews with professionals who are dedicated to wellbeing in the workplace from other industries, and gives focus to the return of furloughed staff back into the workplace.

If you would like a copy of the above mentioned whitepaper, or “Wellness Action Plan”, or are looking for further ideas or advice on how you can support your team, including the Employee Engagement Survey, as company’s look for people to return to the physical workplace, don’t hesitate to get in touch and we’d be delighted to support you.