Q&A: How to Bring Employees Back to Office with Prity Chauhan

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This week we’re in conversation with Prity Chauhan, Manager- People Success, Zinnov. We talk about Companies calling employees back to the office.

The interview is edited for length and clarity.

What are the reasons for companies to bring back employees to the office, and why is remote work not working out anymore?

Many companies are struggling with the decision of bringing employees back to office post the pandemic.

  • One of the biggest factors that motivate companies to bring people back to the office is the high cost of office rent or lease. While they are stuck for a fixed number of years paying for the office lease, employees aren’t willing to come back.

  • Additionally, working from the office promotes collaboration and increases productivity. You can just walk over to a desk and talk about any issue you’re facing.

  • Many companies experienced a high level of attrition, especially among employees who joined during the pandemic. Employees need a sense of belongingness and connection to the company's purpose and mission, which requires extra effort to establish when working remotely. The circular approach of passing orders and setting policies without considering employees' feedback creates a disconnection with the company.

Navigating the Return to Work Process:

To navigate the return to office procedure successfully, companies need to adopt an approach that is centric to employee needs and preferences. It is important to gather feedback and consider employees' priorities, such as spending time with family or relocating to tier two or tier three 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 effectively.

What is the best way to communicate the return to the office?

As a leader, I believe that it's necessary for top-level management to understand the bigger purpose beyond just communication. Creating a sense of purpose makes communication easier. During remote work, there was a lack of connection and belongingness, which made collaboration difficult, even with tools like MS Teams and Slack.

Human interaction is irreplaceable. To address this, creating a purpose and involving managers/supervisors who interact with employees daily is important. Companies are offering flexible scheduling to let managers decide what works for their teams. Providing more flexibility for employees to take care of elderly family members or avoid traffic is also essential. Co-working hours could allow employees to start and leave at their convenience while ensuring they're available from 10 to 4 (or any specific time) for collaboration and meetings. Figuring out days when employees can work best in the office is also important.

How can we make the transition to returning to the office simpler for employees who are not used to working in an office environment? How can we ensure effective communication, maintain employee engagement, boost morale, and motivate employees during this process?

Another important aspect is building solid employee engagement models. This could be in the form of innovation days, community meetups, team bonding exercises, and product meetups where people collaborate and build better bonds. Offering benefits like a fun day, arranged lunches or snacks can also motivate people to come to the office.

Basically, building a purpose, allowing flexibility, and building engagement models are crucial to making this return a positive experience.

How do we address bias in performance management and recognition when implementing hybrid work, and how do we manage to schedule for hybrid work arrangements?

I want to ensure that my team members don't miss out on opportunities for recognition or advancement just because they are not physically present in the office. There may be genuine reasons why someone is working remotely, and it is my responsibility as a manager to ensure that they are not overlooked. Regular one-on-one connects with team members, regardless of their work location, are crucial to stay updated on their progress, projects, and challenges. It is also essential to use technology or channels to connect remote workers with the in-office team during meetings and talks.

To ensure effective communication, HR should conduct temperature checks with managers and employees asking about their experiences connecting with each other. Skip-level meetings are also a great way to ensure business leaders are aware of any challenges and can address them accordingly. Quarterly review meetings with team members keep me accountable as a manager, and I can adjust my approach regularly rather than waiting until the end of the year. Overall, regular communication and check-ins with all team members are essential to avoid bias and ensure equal opportunities for everyone.

How can we effectively navigate this change and ensure our managers notice our efforts?

I believe it's important to have regular one-on-one connects with my manager, whether I'm working from home or from the office. It's essential to ensure transparency in my progress and achievements, using HR tools available to update progress and daily hurdles. Additionally, being visible and proactive in communicating with my manager and team members is my responsibility to ensure a fair and accurate appraisal. It's helpful to seek feedback and suggestions from team members.

How can we manage work-from-home productivity after returning to the office, especially considering the time spent on commuting and interacting with colleagues?

In my opinion, productivity hasn't decreased since people started coming back to the office. People have just started talking a lot about what is not going well, such as oh the time it takes to commute to work. Nonetheless, working in the office allows for quick communication and collaboration, which can be challenging when working from home.You can just hop from one desk to another.

However, it's essential to allow flexibility in office policies, so people have the option to work from home in case of emergencies. When in the office, it's important to allow time for socializing and bonding, but also to set aside fixed periods to complete important tasks. Rather than micromanaging working hours, it's better to focus on task completion and encourage individuals to take ownership of their work.

Does mandatory return to office affect inclusion for caretakers, women, people with disabilities, or can flexibility still support inclusion?

The priorities and working styles of HR leaders have changed in response to the pandemic, and flexibility has become the new normal. Companies are now able to include more people who were previously unable to work, such as returning mothers and individuals who wanted to take sabbaticals. This flexibility has also led to a decline in sick leaves and an increase in gender diversity ratios. In addition, younger employees, such as Gen Z, highly value inclusion and flexibility when choosing where to work. Companies that offer flexibility are more likely to attract and retain top talent.

How can we address the issue of retention during the mandatory return to office? There's been a 20% attrition rate during this transition and it's been referred to as a way to do layoffs without calling it that. What are your thoughts on this?

Initially, many companies wanted their employees to return to the office after the first wave of the pandemic, but the rest of them weren’t comfortable in doing so. Post the second wave hit, many realized that returning to the office hastily was a mistake. However, cases are now decreasing and people are feeling more comfortable, some are getting tired of working from home, especially if they have large families to take care of. There has been a sharp decline in attrition as people are more comfortable returning to the office. However, there is now a sense of fear among some employees that they may be laid off if they don't return to the office.

As leaders, it is important to communicate the purpose of returning to the office and include employees in the decision-making process instead of simply using layoffs as a threatening weapon. Good communication is vital to maintaining employer branding and retaining employees.

To make the return to office successful, create a sense of purpose and communicate it to your employees. Offer flexible scheduling and include your people in decision-making. Returning to work can be an employee engagement model to grow your business, encourage innovation, and have fun activities. Use this return to the office to retain employees, promote inclusion, and lead towards a positive employer brand.

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