Many organizations had no choice during the pandemic. If possible, everyone worked remotely. Now the world is moving on, and employers are facing new challenges. Return to the office is no small task, and RTO success falls largely on managers’ shoulders.
Bold, compassionate management is needed to successfully implement a back-to-office strategy that works for your teams, boosts productivity, and reaps the rewards of being back together in real life.
So how can managers make returning to the office seamless and efficient?
Redesign the office for the new normal
As organizations adopt hybrid working, with people splitting time between at-home and in-office working, you may need less space, but that space requires more thought.
Desks are no longer all pre-allocated but now need to allow multiple people to share the workspace over the course of a week. If you’re shifting to a hot-desking or desk hoteling model, consider personal storage areas for employees to safely keep private property that would normally sit on a desk. It’s also important to consider which jobs need special technology setups and can’t be shared.
A January 2022 survey by FutureForum, found that 58% of respondents were already hybrid working — an increase from 46% in May 2021. And respondents overwhelmingly wanted flexibility with 78% wanting working location flexibility and 95% wanting flexible schedules.
With these stats in mind, offices will need to be redesigned to make use of more open space (or downsize) while also allowing for spaces designed for meaningful collaboration.
Designate specific areas for different types of work. Some people coming back will need personal space for deep work and analytical tasks so provide them with distraction-free zones.
And be sure to build in different kinds of spaces for collaboration. Clearly define informal collaboration corners with different colours and comfortable furniture. And don’t neglect your conference rooms! Meeting rooms for group discussions and hybrid meetings with team members working from home will be more necessary than ever.
Support your whole team to return to the office
Create new rhythms of work
Flexibility is great, but when everyone’s doing something different, it can cause confusion. The new normal comes with lots of questions. Who’s in the office today? When are lunch breaks scheduled? Where is everyone sitting? If I come in early, can I claim the window seat?
As the office returns, managers can create new rhythms of work for their teams that keep everyone on the same page, even when they’re not in the same place.
Schedule a regular check-in at a convenient time for everyone. Use it to catch up with the team and allow everyone to understand who’s working from where and when. It’s a great opportunity for colleagues to schedule collaboration sessions for later.
From time to time, gently remind everyone of your expectations and boundaries for work, what’s acceptable and what isn’t, regardless of whether work is done in the office or from home. These can include team norms, like expecting everyone to have their video on when on team calls, or prompts, like how important it is to only use work devices for work purposes.
Invest in technology
The right technology can close the gap between the office and home. Make sure every team member has what they need to do their job no matter where they’re working. Straightforward, reliable technology helps everyone get the most out of their time.
If your team is hot-desking, you’ll need real-time desk and meeting room booking software that works across devices, especially on mobile.
Communication is key, so invest in good hardware to make video-conferencing simple and seamless. The right audio-visual equipment can help connect remote colleagues with people working in the office.
Involve your employees in decision making
Your employees have developed new life patterns during the pandemic. There was no blueprint, so each person adapted differently. Return to office management recognizes that the journey back to the office will look different for everybody. There’s still no blueprint.
Make sure you clearly communicate why employees need to return to the office. Share the need and the vision. Collaborate to find solutions that work for the individual, the team, and your organization. There’s some trial and error involved with getting things just right, but there are ways to keep track of what’s working and what’s not. Try using a desk-booking solution that offers analytics to better understand how and when people are using spaces in the office.
Decide on a plan, communicate it clearly
Once you’ve understood the needs of your team, clearly lay out your return to work plan. Here are some questions to consider as you make your plan.
- Will everyone return to the office or start hybrid work at the same time?
- Do we need a staged approach to the return to work to allow people to adopt?
- If different employees return at different times or in different ways, are there clear reasons for this that everyone can understand?
No matter how you answer the questions above. Some aspects are vital.
1. Communicate early and often. Give everyone plenty of time to plan for their return to the office. Communicating clearly sometimes means constantly. Just because you’ve said something once doesn’t mean it’s been heard or understood. Don’t be afraid to over-communicate your plan.
2. If the office has changed, share photos of the new setup. Prepare a tour. Introduce people to their new office with excitement and pride.
3. Make sure everyone knows what tools and technology they need and that they’ve been trained to use them so their first experience of being back at work is positive.
4. Minimize uncertainty. Make sure employees know your expectations for the first days. Do they know who is coming, when they should arrive and where to go when they walk in?
5. Honor the milestones. The first time people are back in the office should be a chance to connect and celebrate. Be creative!
6. Recognize the cost. COVID has been an incredibly challenging time for many workers. As well as celebrating the return, be ready to commiserate together.
Make your office a place where workers want to work
Surveys prove that more than half of UK workers prefer a hybrid work model a few days a week. Reinforce that feeling by redesigning the office with plenty of space and designated zones for working.
Managers need to make sure the office is not a place for workers to dread but a place they want to be. This means boosting experience by making things like desk and room booking a breeze.
With Smartway2, managers can provide the tools their teams need for a successful return to the office. See how we can help make your return a success with a free demo today!