The “workplace” is a much more fluid concept than it was a few years ago. The expectation that most people will work together in a specific location at set times is a thing of the past. The pandemic acted as a catalyst for hybrid and remote working, but these days there are many reasons employees are working away from the office for extended periods of time before returning. With the global talent shortage, good leaders are looking for new ways to keep their most valuable employees. Providing flexible work alternatives that allow people to care for parents or children when necessary is a great way to do that. Giving employees with health conditions the option to work from home and avoid commuting, granting workers sabbaticals or time to travel while retaining their job through internet connections are all ways to retain talented staff for the long term. That’s why many workplaces are creating return to office plans, which learn from our experiences over the past few years, easing the switch back into the office — for whatever reason an employee has been away.
What is a “return to office” plan?
In the UK, 16,400 workers leave the labor market each year due to work-related health problems. But some of those people could have kept working if their employers offered more structure when returning to work. That’s exactly what a return to office plan aims to do.
A return to office plan considers how employees can return to office with as little disruption as possible. It gives the employee all the necessary information, so there are no surprises. It lays out the expectations clearly so that everyone in the team operates with the same assumptions.
Thinking through a return plan helps managers consider how this transition affects the employees returning, their families, those who are still remote or hybrid working, and the teams currently working from the primary workplace.
Putting the plan down in writing communicates to the whole team that their return to office journey is important to the organization. Important enough to be thought about in advance. In this way, leaders communicate their care for returning staff.
1. So that’s our first tip for effective return to office plans. Have a written and clearly communicated plan, so employees feel considered and cared for.
Eight more tips for effective return to office plans
2. Create a workplace strategy that includes remote locations
The workplace now extends beyond the office. Consider what work is done by your employees and where the best place is for that work to happen.
For example, it makes sense to work in the office if a task needs special equipment that can’t be moved from place to place. And some meetings are just more efficient when everyone is in the same room. But deep work or work that employees can do at any time of day might be better conducted from an employee’s own home.
Your return to office plans should define types of work and let employees know if there are places where that work needs to happen. Make sure you clearly communicate the reasoning behind your strategy. And make sure employees know the criteria they should use when deciding where to work.
3. Redesign the office to match your workplace strategy
Create spaces that promote the kinds of work you expect to be done in the office. Give employees areas to work individually and places to socialize or do casual work. Make sure you’re designing rooms with everything hybrid teams need to feel unified, even if they happen to be in separate locations.
4. One size does not fit all
Tailor the return to office plan so that it makes sense for people who have been away for all types of reasons. You could start by looking to existing resources from organisations like OSHA or CIPD and then adapt them to better suit the needs of your company and your people.
Consider whether employees who have taken leave to recover from physical or mental illness will need any special equipment or should avoid climbing stairs or standing for prolonged periods of time. Those caring for family members may need to be more flexible when they first get back to in-office work as their lives adjust to a new rhythm. Give managers and team members latitude to adapt the plan as needed.
5. The plan is an evolving document
Keep it updated. Get feedback on the plan before it you implement it, engage with employees as they are returning, and keep reviewing the plan as you go.
You want your return to office plan to serve your people, so find out if it’s missing anything. Building feedback and touchpoints into the plan itself is a terrific way to let people know that the return to office plan is not a way for leaders to manage by policy but instead a way to ensure interaction and care.
6. Keep communicating the plan
It’s easy for teams to become complacent, but it’s not just the people returning to work who need to know about the plan. Everyone needs to share the same expectations.
Remind people when teammates are returning, and make sure everyone is familiar with the plan. Don’t assume that everybody’s on the same page. Be diligent with regular, clear communication.
7. Take the burden off the team
Invest in technology that supports hybrid working and team communications. Great audio-visual is a must to collaborate with teammates who haven’t returned yet but are planning to return. Automating communications of where and when meetings and interactions are happening is another smart way to use technology.
8. Don’t rely on simply telling staff what to do
Train staff in the office and working remotely on how to operate efficiently in a hybrid environment. We’re all dealing with new tools and procedures. Take the time to make everyone comfortable by providing appropriate training.
9. Don’t wait
Nobody wants to come back to the office without knowing what they’re supposed to do, so don’t wait until they’re in the office to start their return to office plans process. Implement desk booking and meeting scheduling software that automatically communicates changes so employees can get started, know exactly where they’re going, and make sure everyone, remote or onsite, is in the right place at the right time.
Implement your return to office plans with Smartway2
Smartway2 has all the tools your business needs to make returning to work — from any kind of absence — a breeze. Take the burden off your teams and talk to Smartway2 today for a demo of our smart return to office solutions.