Companies are now returning to office spaces and working in person after an unusual two years. For many employees, the change is a welcomed one as they’re feeling constricted in their home offices or simply craving a sense of routine and life-work separation. For others, however, RTO (return to office) is not quite as welcome. Those who feel like working remotely enables increased work-life balance, autonomy, and flexibility may pose some resistance to the idea of going back to the workplace.
As a leader, a successful RTO depends on your ability to navigate this transition by taking your team’s concerns into account and creating a welcoming space for them to return to.
These are the strategies I recommend to increase engagement as your employees return to in-person work.
5 Strategies to Increase In-person Engagement in the Office
Employees who feel heard and cared for will show up with a more positive attitude. Whether your team is hybrid or plans to fully return to the office, it’s essential to keep everyone’s safety and well-being at the forefront.
Set clear workplace policies that follow your local guidelines in regards to facemasks, sanitizing, and/or testing to reassure employees coming into the office.
Along with these COVID precautions, you want to consider how the return to the office affects your employees’ lives. Do they have a long commute? Children to drop off at school? Remember, the pandemic shifted our lives in terms of housing, education, and work, so it’s not realistic to think that everything is just going “back to normal.” Some companies have implemented a 4-day workweek, others started offering on-premise childcare, and many have shifted to flexible schedules to give employees a sense of freedom similar to what they had during WFH???.
Frame the Return as a Positive Opportunity
You’ve likely seen viral company policies regarding the return to in-person work. One such example is Elon Musk’s email leak to Tesla employees.
Tesla is obviously an accomplished company. But your chances of success with your team will be greater by creating a welcoming environment than taking a threatening tone.
Employees have gotten used to the benefits of working remotely — no commutes, comfortable clothes, flexible schedules, and increased productivity. And using a menacing approach and undermining their achievements over the course of the pandemic can brew resentment and discomfort rather than motivate them.
To encourage positive attitudes about going back to the office, highlight the benefits of social interaction, open spaces for collaboration and rest, and consider including perks like coffee or tea stations and catered lunches if you hadn’t before.
Communicate Clearly and Often
Did you know that more than a third of employees cite recognition as one of the most important factors for success? As a leader, it’s not enough to schedule a yearly review with your employees. You want to provide them with timely feedback — both positive and negative.
Contemplate monthly informal sessions with your direct reports — and encourage managers to do the same with theirs — so everyone is aware of how things are going. Regular feedback sessions also ensure that issues are addressed on time and make it easier to correct courses as needed.
Open Spaces for Casual Exchanges
Working remotely, we often missed the casual exchanges that typically happened during the lunch break or by visiting a coworker’s desk during the day.
Now that we’re back in the office, it may be difficult to approach these casual situations simply because we lost the habit.
One way you can help employees feel at ease is by encouraging them to take a real lunch break, go for a walk around the office building when the weather allows, or share a cup of coffee with a colleague.
Another fun way to foster casual exchanges is by making it a habit to celebrate special moments with your team now that you’re all in the same space again. Some ideas you can try:
- Get a cake to celebrate the month’s birthdays.
- Create a leaderboard to showcase successful projects.
- List employees’ anniversaries on the announcement board.
- Bring catered snacks to mark the start of the review cycle.
Keep “Extra-curriculars” Optional
Many companies implemented events like happy hours and other bonding activities during the pandemic to increase engagement when teams went remote.
However, these activities became another item on miles-long to-do lists that only added to employees’ overwhelm as they survived an already increased meeting schedule compared to in-person workers.
As you return to the office, consider what activities you’ll keep on the calendar and make sure to keep them optional for employees to attend. After all, your employees are already back on a more strict schedule with commutes and the loss of WFH flexibility. Furthermore, forced interactions will do little good to your organization’s good or your employees’ morale.
The Return to the Office is not a Return to “Normal”
The past few years have been some of the most challenging in recent history. Not only were we juggling the regular stressors of work and life, but we did so under extreme circumstances that forced us to shift to new models without a warning.
Now, going back from remote to in-person work feels foreign for many. Company leaders have the responsibility to make this transition as smooth as possible for employees to successfully return to the office and continue building their legacy.
Are you navigating a difficult transition? Book a consultation now to get the clarity you need to take confident action.