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Return to Work Skills for Managers

Whether your company chooses to return to work permanently or considers a hybrid model that allows for employees to work remotely and in the office, it is essential that managers accommodate employees by listening to their needs.  An employee’s concerns need to be addressed and they should feel supported by their managers. 

Ask yourself why you want your employees to return to work first.  Is it necessary for your employees to be office-based or can they work remotely?  Secondly, ask your employees what they prefer.  The result will most probably be a mix between office, hybrid and remote therefore it is crucial to accommodate and listen to your employees as stated.

Understanding that even though some employees may prefer office-based work, the fact that the whole world was turned upside down during the Covid pandemic, change is going to be quite difficult for everyone.  Even if it means moving back to the way things were before.  The following guidelines will provide you with effective ways to ensure that the transition period for returning to work runs as smoothly as possible.

1) Consult your workforce
The key is to not simply assume.  Prepare your workforce in advance and create a survey with questions addressing their concerns.  Some questions you can consider include: Are you comfortable returning to work?  What are your concerns about returning to work?  Do you feel that you are as effective and productive working remotely as in the office?
Consider using a rating scale or Likert scale survey that will assist you in visualising the outcome of your workforce’s answers. Open-ended questions should be kept to a minimum but not excluded entirely to allow your workforce to express any concerns if necessary.  Remember to execute ongoing evaluations and assessments as your workforce’s preferences may change with time.
Look at this article by Joshua Nicholas from SnapSurveys to provide you with guidance regarding the type of questions to ask.  SurveyMonkey is a great free online survey tool that stores and visualises your data for easy comprehension.

2) Provide alternatives and address concerns timely
After consulting your workforce and the results have been evaluated, communicate the results back to your workforce. Not all roles are suited for hybrid or remote working and it is essential to address your workforce’s concerns.  If you are not able to accommodate your workforce’s requests, remember to still show compassion and provide the reason behind your company’s decision.
Your tone and attitude will ultimately determine your workforce’s mentality and it is your responsibility as a manager to understand what motivates your people.  Show appreciation, being open and transparent, and empowering your workforce are just some of the aspects to consider when motivating your employees.

3) Promote interpersonal connections
Remote working had such an impact on a vast majority of the workforce’s lives they have adapted their homes to accommodate for these circumstances.  Having said this, many of these people barely leave their homes during the day.  A lot of employees might feel disconnected.  Studies have indicated that it is a lot easier to leave a role if there are no connections formed.  Connections assist in creating a sense of purpose, they boost your happiness and reduce stress, and also improve your self-confidence. When going back to the office, those water cooler chats should not be a concern to managers.  Vital connections are actually formed here and the chit-chat assists in forming connections.
Promote some fun activities by hosting back-to-work events however, keep it simple.  People might feel awkward and overwhelmed going back and may take some time to defrost.  Keep it informal, and consider one-on-one chats for those overwhelmed by returning to work.

4) Trust your workforce
If it’s not essential, perhaps make coming back to the office voluntarily.  It indicates that you trust your workforce.  Providing your employees with a choice will also boost their morale.  Ways to assist in showing that you trust your employees are to listen when they speak, act on any feedback that they provide, empower your team by trusting them first and create an inclusive culture where everyone feels safe.  Not only will your workforce productivity improve but going back to the office might actually excite them. When trust is at the core of your business, you can expect improved collaboration, enhanced decision-making and less stress and burnout as well.

5) Implement hybrid work-spaces
Depending on the size of your team, workspaces can be either shared by means of a schedule or if you have enough space, each team member can have their own cubicle or workspace.  Ensure that there is space between desks to respect everyone’s safety and hygiene.  If possible, have teams overlap when going back to work to enable and encourage connections. 
During the survey taken earlier, determine how many days your employees prefer to go into the office and rotate teams if possible.  Alternatively, allow for team members to choose the days they prefer to go in.  Also, understand if a team member might not make it into the office – this touches on the topic discussed earlier regarding trust.
Technology can be used to your advantage to create touchless systems where needed.  Instead of having a physical sign-in sheet, allow members to sign in digitally.  Post-Covid is here to stay and sanitation should not be discarded. Ensure that sanitation protocols are in place for the safety of the whole team.          

The change from working remotely to going back to the office, whether it is permanent or in a hybrid setup can be overwhelming not only for your workforce but for you too.  Ensure that you look after your own wellbeing as well and consider tools and techniques that will assist you in creating a seamless process.  Envoy is a digital management software that assists managers or administrators in streamlining office operations including employee safety, booking desks or conference rooms as well as signing in of employees.  Consider a project management software like Asana or Trello to make hybrid working more streamlined and to keep track of projects that flow between teams.

With all the change taking place, it is inevitable that you will be faced with various emotions across your team. From feeling relieved and excited to fear and hesitation. Utilising these strategies can assist in making the crossover easier. Remember to encourage and not enforce your workforce when it comes to these strategies; for your team’s and your sanity.

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