What to look out for now your employees are returning back to the workplace

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If your organisation is starting to welcome remote staff back to the workplace, you might need to look out for how your employees have changed since working remotely.

Clearly some employees will feel anxious about increasing their risk of infection after months working from the safety of home. Letting them know what precautions you have in place to ensure your workplace is covid-secure on their return will help alleviate those concerns. You may even find you have differing views on covid vaccinations among your employees, which will need to be addressed. 

But let’s look at other ways remote working might have changed your workforce, too. And we’ll offer suggestions on how to deal with those changes:

Employees are used to working from home

Pre-pandemic, noise and chatter were just part of the daily work environment. But switching to home working gave many something new: silence. Coming back to the workplace means being confronted by open plan offices full of distractions and interruptions again.

So bear in mind that this change in noise levels may be difficult for some staff to cope with in the first few weeks. It might be worth explaining this to others, and introducing some ‘quiet times’ or ‘quiet areas’. Maybe noise-cancelling headphones could even play a part too?

They're used to choosing their work environment

Many people have been able to customise their home workspaces for maximum comfort. Just as noise is a factor, so can be temperature. That might mean preferring to work next to an open window, having the heating on high or air con cooling down a stuffy office.

In the short term, this could mean more discussions around temperature in your office than you ever expected. And adjusting to an average temperature may take a while. Team members might also try switching desks so they have more or less direct air flow from windows or air con.

Employees are used to more autonomy

Since remote working started en masse, many employees have had more control over how their work gets done. They’ve enjoyed being left to get on with things to a certain extent. Being able to use their own initiative has felt good. This might especially be true for anyone who’s felt micromanaged in their team dynamic in a physical workplace.

Our word of warning? Employees who’ve come to value this kind of autonomy may resist being too managed back in the workplace, so watch out for this as you transition staff back.

They've been able to work on their own schedule

The remote autonomy many employees have enjoyed also means being able to choose when work gets done - within reason.

During lockdown, many people struggled to work and home school children, for example. And employers who could give staff the flexibility of switching from their ‘core’ work hours to work in the evenings or at weekends instead, did so.

Employees have appreciated having time for their hobbies during flexible lunch breaks, too. Pre-covid, commuting time meant that weekday leisure time was a lot more rigidly set.

This level of flexibility won’t work for every business going forward. But nationally what employees want is changing and there’s a drive for work to fit our lives – not the other way round. There’s also a possibility of a 4-day work week going mainstream, and this is something you might want to consider.

Employees may be feeling less socially confident

For many, a mix of spending time working alone at home and social distancing has taken its toll. And returning to the pressure of everyday social interactions at work might pose a few challenges.

Don’t be surprised to find team members out of practice with all-day chitchat. It’s not unusual for people who have been living low-key lives during the pandemic to complain about losing some of their social skills. And some may even now find themselves more introverted or private as a result.

On the flip side, gregarious employees who have craved human interaction may be a little bit more disruptive until the novelty of being around others wears off.

Coming back to the workplace: Creating the right environment for employees

People who’ve worked remotely have been able to create the most productive environment for themselves at home. Now it’s your turn as their employer to show you can help them get back to feeling productive in the workplace.

Remote working may have led to people starting to feel disconnected. So look to create some new in-person shared experiences that recreate a sense of belonging. Talking to our clients at HR GO we hear of some employers organising in-person work lunches, or volunteer days. Some say they’re encouraging teams to sign up for non-work-related classes together. Others are rebuilding team cohesion with some escape room challenges!

Preparing for employees coming back to the workplace

Asking staff how they feel about a return to the physical workplace gives you a head start on many employers. Especially if you have this discussion ahead of time. This is even if you’re leading a hybrid team, when a typical week sees people working from home as well as in a physical workplace.

You’ll be able to take steps to accommodate any new preferences if that’s possible and practical. Being aware of ways employees have changed during lockdown will show them you take their experiences seriously.

Remember to have patience with your team, listen to and address their concerns. And hopefully these tips will help your team to integrate back into the workplace as smoothly as possible.

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