Effective strategies to Return to Office

During the pandemic, companies were forced to adopt a remote work setting, even if they weren't fully prepared for it. While it proved successful for some, it didn't quite fit the bill for others.

In the post-pandemic world, many companies are opting to bring their employees back to the office. But before taking this step, companies need to carefully navigate the situation to ensure a positive employee experience.

To shed light on effectively navigating this return-to-work process, we have Prity Chauhan, a seasoned HR professional with 10 years of experience, sharing her valuable insights.

Reasons why companies are asking employees to come back to the office

Let’s dive into the many different reasons companies may be opting to implement the return to office mandate.

  1. Investment in office spaces: According to Prity, the biggest driver for companies wanting to bring people back to the office is the high cost of maintaining office spaces. Many companies are still paying high rents or leases and are hence encouraging employees to return to the office.

  2. Collaboration: Many leaders are of the opinion that working in-office promotes collaboration and productivity, and also allows for immediate issue resolution through face-to-face interactions.

  3. A sense of belonging: Additionally, remote work has put emphasis on the need for employees to connect with their coworkers and the company's purpose and mission. Working in a shared space can help in building stronger interpersonal relationships.

  4. Fostering company culture: Office settings play a vital role in fostering and reinforcing a stronger company culture that may have been challenging to maintain in remote setups.

Navigating the return to work process

Whether your company is planning to opt for a hybrid approach or fully return to office, make sure that the big move is centric to employee needs and preferences to successfully navigate the return to office process. It is important to gather feedback and consider employees' priorities, such as spending time with family or relocating to tier 2 or tier 3 cities for a better quality of life. Companies that consider these factors and are sensitive to employees' needs can manage the return to work-process much more effectively. Let’s explore a few factors to consider while navigating the return to work process.

  • Effective communication: It is necessary for leaders to create a clear sense of purpose while communicating return-to-office policies. Maintain open and transparent communication with employees throughout the process. Keep them informed about the plans and policies in place to ensure a smooth transition.

  • Employee engagement initiatives: These initiatives play a crucial role in ensuring a positive and successful return to the workplace. Prity says, using this opportunity to establish robust employee engagement models is essential, which may encompass innovation days, community meetups, team bonding exercises, and product meetups to foster collaboration and stronger connection and engagement levels among employees. Implementing initiatives such as fun days, arranged lunches, or snacks can serve as additional incentives to encourage employees to return to the office.

  • Embracing flexibility: Flexibility is essential in office policies, including the option to work from home during emergencies. In the office, strike a balance between socializing and bonding while dedicating fixed periods for focus work and completing important tasks. Prioritize task completion over micromanaging working hours, empowering individuals to take ownership of their work. This approach fosters a productive and empowered work environment in the hybrid setup.

  • Regular employee check ins: Ensuring regular one-on-one connections with managers is crucial, whether employees are working from home or the office. Transparency in progress and achievements is essential for employees in their career advancement. Taking the initiative to be visible and proactive in communication with both managers and team members helps ensure a fair and accurate appraisal. Additionally, seeking feedback and suggestions from team members enhances the effectiveness of communication and fosters a collaborative work environment.

Retaining talent while implementing return-to-work mandate

  • Addressing diverse workforce needs: In response to the pandemic, HR leaders' priorities and working styles have undergone a significant transformation, with flexibility becoming the new norm. According to Prity, this shift has enabled companies to include a more diverse pool of talent, which includes everything from accommodating returning mothers to individuals seeking sabbaticals. The positive impact of flexibility is evident in reduced sick leaves and improved gender diversity ratios. Notably, younger employees, like Gen Z, place a higher value on diverse needs in their career choices such as inclusive workplaces, meaningful work, collaborative environment etc. Organizations that embrace flexibility as a core principle are better positioned to attract and retain top talent, fostering an empowered and inclusive environment.

  • Addressing attrition rates: Amid the mandatory return to office, focusing on employee retention becomes crucial. A 20% attrition rate in India during this transition has raised concerns, with some referring to it as a disguised form of layoffs. Initially, companies keenly pushed for employees to return to office after the first wave of the pandemic, but a hasty approach led to mixed responses. Hence it is necessary to implement return to office carefully and gradually so as to not spook employees.

  • Transparency in communication: As leaders, effective communication is key to maintaining employer branding and retaining employees. Rather than resorting to layoff threats, involving employees in the decision-making process and sharing the purpose behind returning to the office fosters a transparent work culture and creates a more positive environment. Offering flexibility in scheduling and decision-making empowers the workforce and promotes a sense of ownership amongst employees. Utilizing the return to office for better employee engagement, innovation, and fun activities strengthens the culture and employer brand. By prioritizing inclusion and employee welfare, companies can successfully navigate the return to office while keeping their talent intact.

On a concluding note, Prity says that to make the return to the office a success, it's essential to create an overall sense of purpose and communicate it effectively to all employees, including managers. Embracing flexible scheduling by allowing individuals to choose when and how they work from the office is key. Take this as an opportunity to re-evaluate and enhance employee engagement initiatives. Take into consideration the changing needs of employees by offering benefits such as eldercare or onsite childcare facilities. Establish a diversity program that promotes inclusion and improves gender diversity ratios. Lastly, and most importantly, leverage these initiatives to build a stronger employer brand.

Let’s Talk! Reach out to abhash.kumar@springworks.in if you want to feature in one of the issues.