The rapid pivot to remote working will have created challenges you weren’t expecting. And the return to physical workspaces is probably raising just as many questions.
But if you’re struggling amid this era of uncertainty, consider how your employees feel throughout a whirlwind of changing work conditions.
From the hubbub of a packed office or busy frontline environment, to the relative seclusion of remote working or being furloughed. Then back to work (perhaps only physically present part-time) and potentially through the whole cycle again, as pandemic waves re-emerge.
Many workers are struggling to adapt to a remote environment – with reports of loneliness and isolation. Meanwhile, according to Forrester, 41% of workers are afraid to go to work due to COVID-19 concerns. And only 55% of workers in the US believe their company will put their health first.
Adapting to permanent remote working or transitioning back to physical workplaces is much more than simply a technology, operations or facilities consideration. It’s a bigger employee experience challenge, where you must think more specifically about staff wellbeing.
Here are four steps that can help you to reduce friction, reassure your teams, ensure business continuity and guard employee welfare.
#1 – Communicate clearly and frequently
Many workforces have been furloughed, moved to part-time hours or temporary remote working. Communication is crucial as you seek to re-engage workers. The trouble is, according to research by our friends at Akumina, nearly three quarters (74%) of employees miss out on important company communications. So, you need to hone your efforts and deliver consistent, clear and compassionate communication.
What you can do:
Consider the role your internal communications, employee hubs and intranets can play in ensuring your messages are getting through.
Understand how these channels are used by different types of workers and gather insights to engage employees who are returning to work more effectively.
Explore how you can put inclusive processes in place to proactively seek feedback from employees on their experiences around the return to work. Communication is a dialogue – giving your employees a voice is crucial to maintaining morale.
#2 – Embrace holistic employee wellness
organisations across the globe are waking up to the fact they need to focus on employee wellbeing. Leaders and managers across all levels are having to adapt fast. Mid-level managers in particular have had to adopt a different approach – spending more time understanding and appreciating the mental, emotional and physical health of their direct reports.
To foster empathy for your employees, ensure your managers take time to deepen their understanding of people’s circumstances and feelings. Where necessary, they may need to tailor work environments and experiences to individual needs, which could in turn require increased confidentiality, privacy and data security.
What you can do:
Consider offering life coaches, mental health support and broader wellbeing programs to help grieving or anxious employees.
Don’t forget those who are dealing with stressful situations like caring for elderly patients and partners of key workers.
Wellness surveys can provide peace of mind for employees and return valuable data to base your decisions on – helping you to identify concerns and develop real-time guidance based on changing health and personal needs.
Mindfulness programs can deliver a human and compassionate way to help workers deal with excess stress and anxiety. Platforms like Microsoft Teams lets you integrate popular mindfulness and meditation apps into your daily workplace experience.
#3 – Ensure work environments are safe
You’ll probably have already sought to redesign work so that it can be completed effectively from home or via a hybrid remote working approach where possible. If not – that’s one of the first steps you now need to take: Segment key workers who must be physically present on the frontline from those who can work remotely.
But many organisations will need a share of frontline workers to return to physical workplaces. To ensure that working on company premises is as safe as possible, limit physical contact and enable a more flexible use of space (e.g. via shift patterns or redesigning physical layouts).
What you can do:
Train managers on how to manage hybrid virtual and physical teams effectively.
Educate staff on new processes and protocols, as well as how to use personal protective equipment properly.
Embrace technology to proactively, securely and ethically – covering everything from wellbeing through to contact tracing, proximity, space utilization and cleaning.
Finally, consider the role of chief medical officer to manage health protocols for the organisation and its interaction with the wider environment.
#4 – Reconsider employee benefits
The pandemic has changed virtually every element of how work gets done – including the values that employees place the greatest emphasis on. Salary, location, vacation allowance and more traditional benefits may have been priorities before the pandemic. But today, benefits that improve personal health and safety have surged up the list.
As recently as the beginning of the year, free buffet lunches, fruit baskets and snack jars were a pleasant workplace perk. Now, they’re less a benefit and more a potential health risk. Similarly, flexible working and dedicated remote working policies may have been deemed a luxury before – these are now a necessity.
What you can do:
Reassess what benefits employees really value as they return to work. In the new normal, is unlimited vacation really a benefit? Or are discounts on therapy and meditation programs more valuable?
Use surveys and focus groups to find out what benefits really matter in the pandemic era. And use these opportunities as a way to reiterate your commitment to employee empathy.
Learn more in our new Return to Work guide
We’ve recently launched a new guide which explores employee wellbeing and other key issues that you’ll face as your employees transition back to physical workplaces – even if only in a hybrid context.
Download the guide today and discover how a holistic Workplace Experience approach can help you navigate this challenging period to ensure a safe, smooth return to the workplace.