Top Challenges in Getting Employees Back to Office
A recent study by Barco ClickShare, in June 2021, indicated that 75% of employees want to be back in the office.
Another survey by Office Pass TOP indicated that Indians are cautious but waiting eagerly to be back to work and the most sought-after format is 3-4 days in office. This format is preferred by 54% of employees and 41% of companies.
While multiple surveys and studies are indicting people’s preference to be back to work, the devil lies in the detail.
The workforce is can be divided into 3 segments
- Those who want to turn back the clock to Mar’20
- Those who are looking at hybrid work
- Those who want to always operate remotely
Workforce falling in segment one is motivated by lack of infrastructure, lack of focus at home. Additional responsibilities at home add to WFH woes. Challenges in remote collaboration are also a reason people want to be back in the office and lack of engagement is the most important reason they want to turn back the clock.
Workforce falling in segments two and three has seen the benefits of saving on commuting time, having the flexibility of starting the day a little late, and having an afternoon nap, and yet being fully productive. Since schools have yet not started, childcare responsibilities also make it difficult for people to be back to work. Also, the lack of public transport and the fear of yet another wave reinforces this stand. Various studies have shown that people are as or more productive at home as in an office and hence this segment is questioning back to office plan
The second wave has brought multiple challenges and the hybrid model is the way forward, at least in the short run. However, there are umpteen challenges in reopening the office and organizations need to cater to emerging demands, opportunities, and challenges posed by the new normal in most human ways which create minimum disruption to the business.
Returning to work will require a well-thought-out strategy and flawless execution. We need to bring up different solutions to multiple challenges facing us in returning to work. In my view, the following areas need attention.
Communicating the WHY
Depending on the report one reads, employees may have developed a belief that is it not at all required to be back to work. Transparent communication on why returning to work is essential in long run is the first step of the strategy. This should start with reading people’s minds through internal surveys. These surveys will indicate people’s opinions which are unique to each organization. The feedback and opinion received through these surveys should be analyzed in detail and accordingly the plan to be back to work framed.
Flexibility is the key when it comes to rerun to work. While the first response to flexibility will be “this is how it used to be 18 months ago” or “it can’t be done here” However, this pandemic taught us that organizations are quick to adapt to new requirements. Flexibility is going to be a differentiator and will have a direct impact on net promoter scores. Technology is a great enabler when it comes to flexibility.
Getting back to work will lead to anxiety in people’s minds and organizations need to be sensitive towards these changes. Organizations must support people through an employee assistance program, open discussions, and transparent communication. Besides, there should be norms on only vaccinated staff attending the office which will reduce the risk of contagion. Health and safety measures should be maintained and social distancing followed. Public transport should be avoided. These measures will give staff peace of mind and help accelerate the pace of readjustment
Personalization is key for diversity and inclusion: While the policy will apply to all employees, to create an inclusive workplace, organisations will have to bring in some deviation to support the diverse workforce. These may be women who have child care responsibleness since schools are yet to reopen and daycares won’t be functional immediately. Focus on wellbeing should be the key here. The role of executives and leaders will be crucial here and they need to be receptive to these changing requirements and continue to lead with empathy
I would say that these are changing times and organizations need to continue to reinvent themselves. There are benefits of both the worlds. Work from the office brings in collaboration camaraderie and wellbeing for all. Whereas, remote work offers a better work-life balance and accommodates people who have special needs besides reducing the risk of contagion.
Such times call for compassion and innovative leadership. Very recently, few major tech giants made headlines for wrong reasons and faced backlash on their back-to-work policy. Many were forced to backtrack on such policies and come up with more flexible ones.
The mantra should be to act, recalibrate and move forward.
This requires a balancing act because pushing people IN may push them OUT.