Given what organizations have accomplished during the Covid pandemic, there are mixed feelings about the return to office. Many employees don’t want to go back into the office every day. They’ve grown to love the flexibility a hybrid or work-from-home setup offers them.
Employees who have gotten used to the pace of working from home may have questions about why working in an office benefits themselves or the company. The “water-cooler collaboration” argument that surprise encounters can generate value for the company, may or may not fly with every employee.
Meanwhile, companies want employees back together in person, either on a hybrid schedule or fully in person. Many of the reasons employers want people working together in person are qualitative, not quantitive. With this in mind, it’s best for leaders to expect at least some resistance from employees.
As an employer, how do you handle the challenge of bringing employees back into the office? It’s an employee communication issue. A solid communications plan can smooth the transition back to an in-person workplace, or share clear guideines on hybrid work.
Research employee attitudes
Every big decision requires data, and employee feedback will give you a more accurate picture of where your team stands on the return to office.
Maybe certain employees are facing childcare or elder care responsibilities at home, or they’ve made major lifestyle changes on the assumption that remote work would always be available. Perhaps they’ve shifted their budgets away from commuting costs. Whatever the landscape is within your company, open up conversations and be prepared to act on what you hear.
Ensure at least several chances for staff to have input on the policy before it’s instituted, on a reasonable but specific timeline. Certainly, it may not be possible to grant everyone’s wishes. But by working to incorporate the feedback into the final policy, you show that employee feedback is important to the organization.
Finally, once you’ve gathered all your feedback, be sure to act on whatever parts of the feedback you can incorporate into the policy. It’s far worse to ignore input and have employees think you’ve made a show of collecting information and then doing nothing with it.
Unify senior leadership
Share the data with senior leadership and advise on what’s possible to offer employees and what isn’t when it comes to work settings. Explore the concerns that each department or division might have, and work together to find ways to address them.
Consider whether some teams only need to be in the office on certain days of the week, or how best to schedule all-staff meetings that maximize business that needs to be done in person. Make plans to support hybrid workers if you have them, including those who have significant financial or logistical challenges.
When leadership is unified, it cuts down on ambiguity and conflicting messages. This clarity and consistency in communication helps with employee adoption, and in turn, overall trust in the organization.
Tie to organizational values
Explain the situation to your employees, why this move is best for the organization as a whole and how their participation is key to achieving that goal. Lean on your organization’s core values to bring forward the reasons that returning to the office matters. These core values bring authenticity and transparency to your return-to-office messages.
Expect that not everyone will be happy about it. Prove that you’re doing your utmost to help your employees while focusing on the overall health of the organization and its needs.
Employee communication is a two-way process that should go far beyond one announcement. It’s not enough to send one companywide email and expect that employees show up on the designated date.
Certainly the company will share emails and make announcements on a variety of platforms, from Slack channels to emails. It’s just as important to establish channels for employees to communicate with leaders about their concerns and get questions answered. Schedule employee meetings about the policy change to take place, and offer opportunities to speak one-on-one with employees to work through challenges.
Be open for questions and comments. Plan to make a series that directly addresses questions that repeatedly arise from employees. Empower managers with information about the policy, and encourage them to share the feedback that they’re hearing from direct reports.
Highlight growth opportunities
Workers are usually receptive to the proposition that at least some coordinated time together in person can boost their own careers.
For example, while an early-career employee might have less experience on the job, they tend to grow faster in their roles with in-person opportunities to learn from and network with their colleagues. When managers can interact on a regular basis in person with their direct reports, they’re better able to accelerate a high performer or support someone who’s stumbling. Employees at every level can build relationships and pursue mentorship with in-person exposure. And remind employees that walking down the hall to ask a question can often get results faster than sending a digital message or email.
However you present these sorts of advantages to your staff, be specific about the employee benefits in the short, medium and long term. A clear and concise messaging plan can help set expectations and manage employee communication. Specificity will also help solidify what a return to office that suits employees and the company overall looks like.
No matter how well you communicate, know that you may not make all your employees happy or satisfied. Understand what makes for an overall win, and remember that grounding your approach in your company values will be a key in nailing the landing.
A public relations firm like B2 Communications is well-equipped to help organizations understand their audiences, clarify their message and implement a strategy and tactics to achieve communications goals. If you’re looking for guidance on how to have transparent communications with your employees about going back to in-person work – or related to other challenges - reach out to us.