Managing employee engagement as we return to the office

As restrictions have eased, slowly but surely we are seeing businesses and offices re-open, albeit in various shapes and forms. The question of where and how we’ll work looks to be far from certain and, as I’ll go on to suggest - really should be based on what works best for your people. In my latest blog I share my thoughts on how to return with your people firmly onboard and engaged.

 The employee engagement opportunity

 I see the return to the office as a powerful engagement opportunity - in fact one that we wouldn’t have had without the pandemic. The past year of remote working and furloughing has made many people think hard about what they really want from their employer and wider career. Many are seeking a more defined sense of purpose from their work so those organisations that deliver on purpose - like the sustainability message from my organisation, Pure Planet, have a great opportunity to get that across as they welcome people back. However, there is much more to a successful managed return that reminding employees about your purpose.

 Fail to plan - or plan to fail

 There has to be a plan which needs to be flexible and agile as things will change. The key here is employee involvement. Depending on how good your communication and engagement has been during the pandemic, some will be feeling a little removed from your business, certainly nervous about not only re-joining colleagues face to face but the safety aspects of doing so. So, base your plan on asking your people what they think and what they need. What are their concerns? What do they need from you to want to go back into the office? This is a great opportunity for an employer to show that they care and have put a lot of thought into the return to work process.

 The need for clarity

 Lack of clarity is likely to be a major contributor to both employers - and employees struggling to get this right. In uncertain situations people want to know where they stand. The more clarity you can give, the smoother the process will be and you’ll also help reduce stress levels. So, establish your expectations and communicate these regularly e.g. your approach to coming into the office "you have the choice to come in or, you need to be in two days a week" etc.

 Leaders and line managers can make a huge difference here, leading by example. Top down communication gives direction to the process and shows that it’s something everyone is going through - which can itself be engaging. Line managers are always the employees first point of contact so their ability to listen and show understanding of what their teams have been through will go a long way.

 Which working model should you follow?

 There is no definitive answer here, other than choosing the right one that works best for your people. Put their needs before the business. Some organisations have been very vocal about a 100% return to office based working - but is that really the ideal model for the people they’ll be depending on for productivity? Remember that many people have adjusted well to remote working and have proven that it can work because they’ve had to. The old arguments for resisting home working around concerns for productivity or not having the right tech won’t hold up now. What’s more, once you have given something it’s going to be a struggle to take it back without damaging goodwill.

 For those planning hybrid working

 Perhaps this is why many employers are looking at a hybrid model, namely a mix of home and office based working. This presents the best opportunity to meet the needs of those who won’t want to spend 5 days commuting to an office. It also offers enough face to face contact to re-build relationships and establish new ones. However, while it aids familiarity with colleagues, your managers may be unfamiliar managing a hybrid team so training would help them. 

 For those organisations that implement a hybrid model, it’s important to help employees manage their wellbeing by checking in to make are they are not working excessive hours and they have the right office setup. Many people managed on their kitchen table or on the sofa during lockdown. This was a ‘needs must’ workaround for many. In the long run this isn’t sustainable so, think about how you are going to treat those who can rarely come into the office e.g .have an allowance for those working from home. For example, my organisation, Pure Planet, are giving everyone £250 to spend on a desk or chair if needed.

 In conclusion

 The next few months present a great opportunity to re-engage with your people and effectively re-onboard the entire organisation. It’s really worth spending some time to get this right. Because, at the same time as you are reviewing where your employees are going to be based - they may well be making other plans. Remote working has shown many that they can work successfully from home which dramatically opens up their options. Whether they choose to remain with you may well rest on just how engaged they feel as they return.

Author: Richard Roberts
Posted on: Friday 9th July 2021

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