With lockdown restrictions easing, and businesses in need of some vital workplace continuity, us HR teams have become unsung office heroes, figuring out how to keep employees safe – and companies compliant – no matter where your people choose to work.
This was a topic I discussed in a recent roundtable with HR leaders from across the UK. Here are four key takeaways I wanted to share from our discussion:
1. Your line managers are key, but you need to support them
The line between home and the workplace had progressively blurred over the last few years, but during the pandemic, it completely disappeared. The switch to remote working saw many employees make work fit around home life like never before and as a result, the 9-to-5 work schedule became impractical.
And after experiencing the many benefits of working in this flexible way, many are now unwilling to go back to how things were.
This is particularly important now that we’re looking to get employees back into the office. Business leaders who fail to respond to the new expectations of their employees risk pushing top talent away. So what can HR do to help leaders adapt to this new status quo?
Managers will take on much of the responsibility for ensuring a smooth transition to the office. They’ll need to be more empathetic, understanding, and flexible than before. So, providing them with training that focuses on emotional intelligence from the outset will go a long way to making them ready for the increased role they will play in employee wellbeing.
2. Hybrid working is essential: let your teams decide how they want to work
The pandemic has shown us that work is a thing you do, not a place you go. And now that people have had a taste of remote working – not to mention the better work-life balance it brings – it will be difficult to switch back to full-time office work.
A services provider shared that more than half of their employees want a hybrid method of working that gives them the best of both worlds moving forward. This includes a combination of in-office meetings and collaboration, and remote days for work requiring their complete focus.
But hybrid working can present new challenges for business leaders. If not approached in the right way, it risks fostering resentment among remote workers who, owing to a lack of visibility, might feel they’re not getting the same promotion opportunities or raises as their in-office peers.
The way around this is letting employees take the lead in deciding what works best for them, whether that’s work in the office, work at home, or a combination of both.
3. Mental health must be front and centre
While remote working has its benefits, the impact it has on mental health when not managed correctly is indisputable. As HR professionals, it’s critical we zero in on our employees’ mental health and find ways to help those struggling.
Guests at the roundtable found that so far, opening the office doors to those needing clearer work-home separation saw a clear positive impact on mental health. Other successful initiatives included the introduction of half-day Fridays, which helped to boost employee satisfaction rates and offer a greater work-life balance.
What it comes down to is recognising people need a break to recharge, get out and reconnect with themselves – whether it’s from home, or their office desk.
4. Anxious employees need support when returning to the office
Depending on who you talk to, a return to the office may conjure up very different emotions. There are some who might be eager to get back into the office, and others who may be wracked with anxiety at the idea.
What we need to understand about these worries is not that employees don’t want to go back to the office full stop – it’s that they’re unsure about the structures employers are putting in place to protect employee health, safety, and wellbeing moving forward.
These anxieties should be addressed proactively. An industry regulator shared that, for example, that they’re heavily prioritising initiatives to make employees feel safe and happy on their return to work. This could be Mental Health First Aider groups that employees can turn to when they need help – or office walkthrough videos that go over new protocols.
These steps might seem small but coming up with creative ways to help ease your employees into the next stage of working will go a long way to putting their worries to bed.
Take it one step at a time
The transition from remote working to physical or hybrid workplaces needs to be handled with the utmost care. Businesses must ensure that any changes are tailored towards individual wellbeing as closely as possible.
HR professionals need to address employee concerns head-on and create an ongoing conversation around them. Subsequently, taking the transition slow and steady will give employees the time they need to become more comfortable and confident.