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Steps Leaders Can Take to Help Employees Return to the Office

Remember the chaos of sending or being sent home to work remotely almost two years ago? Who knew that coming back into the office would be just as challenging for many employers and employees?

While some people are eager to get back to the office and engage with fellow humans face-to-face, others have become accustomed and rather fond of this new reality of working remotely for several reasons:

  • More comfortable wardrobe—business attire on top, comfy clothes on the bottom.

  • Zero commute time—avoid the stress of traffic and fuel expense.

  • Better work/life balance—spend more time with family and pets.

  • Enjoy a customized work environment or home office.

  • The ability to work abroad. #vanlife

There are no more interruptions by colleges swinging by to chat, leading to greater productivity and focus. Although, your child, spouse, or pet may be your new interrupter.

This alternative to work—intended to be short-lived—has become the norm and almost expected by employees who long for autonomy. Organizations that demand a return to the office are being challenged, as displayed in “the great resignation.”

Employees have far more options than before. Gig work, solopreneur, and entrepreneurship are on an exponential rise, with gig work alone accounting for almost 40% of the U.S.’s economy. How we work is changing. But for the organizations requiring employees to return to the office, what can they do now to ensure employees return without feelings of resentment or fear? How might emotional intelligence play into a smooth transition?

We asked leaders and employees, and here is what a few of them had to say:

“Leaders can begin by placing themselves in their employees’ shoes. If they have been working remotely, what might they expect from returning to an office environment? Are they mentally and physically prepared to begin their routine commute to the office? How will their office space differ from the one they built at home? At the end of the day, the concept of emotional intelligence simply boils down to considering a company’s policies and structure from an employee’s point of view. While leaders and other C-Suite positions often hold their own offices, employees often work in proximity. Are leaders considering the pandemic and the health of their employees? If possible, leaders can hold a town hall with employees about any anxieties or issues they might face coming back to an office environment. There is no better source to knowing the issues a company might face than the people that make it up.”

“One of the unforeseen benefits of the pandemic was the peace that Professionals of Color had Eliminating physical closeness, the spontaneous small talk before and after meetings, and the ability to turn the camera off, has drastically reduced their exposure to microaggressions while on the clock. So, it is only natural for many to be increasingly anxious as return-to-work plans start rolling out.

To help ease your team back into the office, the first step you need to take is to engage in open and honest dialogue. Take the time to understand where individuals are at, honoring their feelings, fears, and the barriers that are real for them. Marginalized voices are often reluctant to openly talk about the things that contribute to their experiences of marginalization, so it requires leaders to take the lead in engaging in these conversations while demonstrating that it is safe and beneficial to do so. NOTE: The less psychologically safe someone feels on your team, the more effort will need to be put into building that connection before they will be vulnerable enough to share.”

“1. Don't micromanage. Just because we are returning to the office doesn't mean everything can immediately shift back to the way it was pre-pandemic. Working from home took a period of adjustment, so will returning to the office. I find it most helpful to be mindful of my own actions, particularly not micromanaging. If my associates still need to work from home in the afternoon or for a day, let them. They've proven they can be just as effective at home as they can in the office.

2. Revamp the workspace. At home, they had access to comfortable surroundings, casual dress, and coffee (that's a big one for me!). Now is a good time to rethink the workspace. I offer my employees free coffee and a more relaxed dress code. I personally would like to see a more open workspace and break down the standard cubicles—literally breaking down barriers.

3. Benefits. Returning to the office has a significant impact on working parents and those with anxiety and depression. I not only ensure that our benefits packages include support for these items (i.e., on-site daycare or mental health support), but I also make sure my associates know where to go for this support. Re-orientation to the office will be crucial in the success.”

What has been your experience returning or preparing to return to work? What suggestions do you have for organizations and leaders to help make the transition back to the office as smooth and accommodating as possible? Leaders—what challenges have you faced? What can employees do to work with you?

Let us know your feedback in the comments below.


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