Handling the ‘Back-to-Office’ Transition

Tips for Bringing Your Team Back to the Office

Increasing numbers of employers are bringing employees back to the workplace as COVID vaccination rates rise. But just as last year’s transition to a work-from-home (WFH) environment was difficult for many companies and entities, the move away from WFH and back to the workplace may also present challenges. Keeping employees motivated and engaged ranks among these challenges, but there are ways to sidestep the obstacles.

Handling the ‘Back-to-Office’ Transition

Sound an Early Warning

Give employees as much notice as possible about any planned return to the workplace, so that they can make any necessary adjustments on their end—for instance, finding childcare, arranging transportation, or determining how they will handle a long commute. The less time team members are given to figure things out, the more harried and/or resentful toward their employer they will be. This can result in a lack of engagement and poor performance on the job.

Survey All Teams and Respond to Feedback

Solicit feedback from employees about their biggest concerns when it comes to a return to the office, and what their ideal working schedule would look like. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the more input employees are asked to provide about the transition, the more amenable to it they will be.

Some employees will likely be concerned about the ability to practice proper social distancing in the workplace, even if physical capacity is sufficient to allow for it. Staggered work shifts may be a solution here, with employees assigned to different teams whose members come to the workplace on certain days and remain at home on other days (e.g., Team A returns to the office on Mondays, Wednesdays, and alternating Fridays while Team B does so on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and alternating Fridays).

It’s unrealistic to expect that all employees will be amenable to giving up their WFH schedule entirely. Of 1,500 individuals queried for a recent survey conducted by Harvard Business School, 81 percent said they either prefer not to return to the office at all or favor a hybrid model of work. More than one-quarter (27 percent) of employees fall into the former group, while 61 percent would rather work from home two to three days a week. Where practical, allow the latter to happen—perhaps using the team approach described above.

Another solution to social distancing concerns suggested by SHRM: checkerboard-style seating. In this scenario, every other seat in rows of cubicles or an open plan is left empty.

Form a Team of Allies

Despite the findings of the Harvard Business School survey, some employees will be excited about a return to the workplace. Ask these employees to form a committee to work along with management to create working agreements, develop and execute fun social events that will get colleagues into the “workplace spirit,” and help ease the transition for their colleagues while keeping them engaged and motivated.

In an article published in the Harvard Business Review, Sarah Jensen Clayton, a senior partner with global consulting organization Korn Ferry, cites the example of a group that was formed at IBM. Group members, “took it upon themselves to establish guiding principles to help make work and life easier for themselves and their colleagues, collaborating with business and HR leaders to evolve their efforts into a company-wide pledge,” Jensen writes.

Be Proactive, Not Reactive

Even employees who are very enthusiastic about returning to the workplace may initially be less productive in performing their tasks than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic sparked a WFH movement. Let employees know that they can—and should—reach out to their supervisors and the human resources department for assistance in adjusting to new schedules. Holding sessions where employees can brainstorm and share support can also be effective.

Recognize Small Wins

Recognizing employees’ progress in the move back to the workplace—for instance, responding to surveys, participating in support sessions, and the like—will keep the engagement momentum on a good, even keel.

At E-Complish, we’re also about transition—in our case, transition to flexible, comprehensive payment processing solutions and services. Find out more here.