Leaders are working hard to redesign, reorganise, and rebuild office spaces. New work processes need to ensure safety and compliance with new norms and regulations. This all with the goal of ensuring maximum productivity once workers return to the office. But as organisations develop these comprehensive plans to make their office spaces work, question remains: How likely is it that workers even want to return?
Organisations have good reason to be concerned about workers’ likelihood of returning. Hesitancy to return may be driven largely by a lack of trust—toward the employer, toward colleagues, and toward others they are likely to interact with at the workplace. Thus, as companies rethink and rebuild their office spaces, leaders should put the same level of effort into building or re-establishing trust with their workers.
If you communicate proactively with employees and invest time in listening, for example through an employee survey that asks thoughtful questions, you can avoid confusing and uncomfortable situations while ensuring a safe and successful reopening.
4 tips for a back-to-the-workplace employee survey:
1. Social support and connections
Are people getting the support from their co-workers that they need? Do they feel isolated or still connected with their colleagues? When employees feel social connection and camaraderie with their colleagues, they are more likely to feel safe in the new workplaces as everyone forms 1 front to battle the pandemic and to follow the rules.
2. Resources and support, inside and out of work
Employees need to feel like they have the tools to go to work and be safe, whether that’s working from home or in an office, a retail store or a restaurant dining room. Support also needs to extend beyond the workplace to employees’ personal and home lives, whether it is a parent worried about childcare or anxiety over exposing their elder relatives to COVID-19. As an employer you often have less control over these concerns but listening, being aware of them and adapting if possible is already a good step forward.
3. Confidence and clarity
Do employees trust the intentions and ability of leaders, resulting in a positive/optimistic view of the future? Is there a strong feedback loop between leadership and the frontline workers? Is there clear communication and do employees have confidence in leadership? Are they convinced that managers have their back in case of an outbreak?
4. Innovation and influence
Do people feel involved in changes, or do they feel that changes are just “happening to them?” Employers need to measure if employees feel like their ideas are sought out and listened to. That’s going to make whatever you decide to do way more successful.
And if there is enough trust to return, what do we return to?
We’ve already picked up ideas of offices as clubhouses with more of a home-like setting where people can come together with a focus on connection and celebration and that partially remote working will certainly continue to exist for the more operational tasks. Multiple sources lead us to believe that we are moving toward a hybrid model of working. In several aspects we have proven that remote work can be successful, even for organisations that believed they couldn’t do it. Nevertheless, after several months most knowledge workers indicate they would prefer a mix of remote and office work. Like everything else, such disperse workforce does comes with its pros and cons.
Hybrid communication & connection:
Some people like the boundaries of a commute and the buzz of an office setting. Others prefer the comfort of being at home. In that regard, the new hybrid approach will provide more flexibility and ways to indicate your own work preferences. There will be a new balance of how often people visit the office, and why. But it’s important to consider the impact a mixed model will have on how we communicate and connect.
For example, while in-person meetings tend to flow more organically, remote meetings focus on a single platform. When participants are split, it can be hard to encourage engagement from both sides. In that manner we can learn a lot of global companies in the future as they are hybrid by nature. Their best practices on how to guide disperse teams will become of enormous value.
Understanding the diverse needs of your workers:
While some individuals have comfortable and quiet home environments, others might face distractions from children or roommates. The magic isn’t finding one thing that suits everyone. Instead, it’s about finding ways to group your workers based on commonalities and building programs and processes targeted to their specific needs. This approach can help employers create environments that are truly centred around employee well-being.
Just as workplaces have evolved, so have workers. Thus, in many respects, we will never “return” to the office in which we worked. The exit in March could be compared to a revolution. The journey back will, in contrast, be more of an evolution. This opens opportunities for organisations and employees to work in new ways with the potential to be more effective than before. For that potential to be realized, organisations will need to create trust among their workers, and workers will need to create trust between each other.
As the Great Place to Work® team® we are convinced that every company will eventually find a successful back-to-work approach that both suits their company’s strategy and their employee’s needs. We feel honoured to be able to witness this evolution from the first row and are excited for what the future will bring.
Eager to learn more about how Best Workplaces got Better during the pandemic?