Make a Return to the Office Easier for Everyone

Steps leaders can take to make employees feel supported and safe ahead of an eventual return to the workplace.

While some companies have announced long-term or even permanent remote work policies, others are eager to bring teams together in the office when it is safe and when employees feel comfortable doing so. In a recent article for MIT Sloan Management Review, Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy, coauthors of the book “No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work,” offered these steps leaders can take to make employees feel supported and safe ahead of an eventual return to the workplace.

  • Be transparent. Don’t wait to communicate what you’re thinking, even if there’s limited information to share. Even if you can’t offer a specific answer yet, your teams will feel comforted knowing that you’re not actively ignoring the issue. The goal of transparency is to earn trust and reduce unnecessary stress.
  • Discover employees’ concern early on. Send out surveys asking workers how many days per week they would like to work in the office; what will make a return easier; whether there are circumstances that could make a return to the office difficult or scary; and what types of work they prefer to do from home or from the office. Share the results and do everything you can to incorporate your findings into the workplace policies.
  • Highlight what your teams will gain with in-person time. Employees who have gotten used to working from home may not see the benefit of going back to the office. If there were specific pre-COVID-19 culture events or celebrations that people enjoyed, share a plan for how you’ll restart them when everyone is together again. Numerous surveys in the past year have shown that employees agree that collaborating and building important workplace relationships are easier in person.
  • Present the return to the office as an experiment. To ease people’s anxiety, frame the return to offices as an iterative process. Tell them your organization will try version 1 of a hybrid work setup and will adjust policies based on employee feedback. This will help workers feel that it doesn’t have to be perfect in the beginning.

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    Paul Nolan is the editor of Sales & Marketing Management magazine.

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