Returning to the office has already become a reality for many businesses and is likely to be widespread over the next couple of months. After a year of lockdowns and remote working this is a big change for many workforces. Whether all your employees are going to return to the office full time - or you’re using a hybrid working model - there is definitely going to be some adjustment necessary. One recent survey of employees across multiple countries found that 79% didn’t want to go back into their workplace. Given that there may be some significant obstacles of reluctance, what can you do to help overcome this?
Worries can be intensified when we don’t talk about them and if your employees are feeling reluctant to return to the office this is only going to be made worse if no one is really talking about the reality of that. Start a conversation and create a space in which everyone can share, whether that relates to concerns or questions. This will give employees the opportunity to seek reassurance and demonstrate that your business values their input and cares about how they feel.
If you find that the return to work is raising mostly negatives then asking people to explain what’s behind that can be useful. Use open questions that will encourage discussion rather than ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses and make sure that whoever is asking the questions really listens to the responses. It might be useful to find out what it was about remote working that employees enjoyed so much. You could simply ask how remote working affected their lives and what has shifted for them since the change in working practices. Asking employees what they have learned from remote working and, specifically, what is worrying them in terms of the change that will come from going back to the office can also be insightful. It’s essential with this kind of approach to ensure that you’re treating everyone as individuals. The past 12 months have had a different impact on us all - some people may be coping with loss or grief, with childcare struggles or with their own ill health and all of this will influence how they feel about going back into the office.
Your staff are more likely to be reassured if you say that you’re not sure than if you try to fob them off or ignore the question. Most people simply want to be heard and to know that their concerns have registered - it’s unlikely that they will want you to come up with a solution right away.
You should start by reviewing and analysing your risk assessment to fully understand the risk of coronavirus in your business. This will help you to understand what you should do to work safely and protect people. It is important to increase the confidence of your employees with sensible, practical and well thought out policy changes. There are many very simple things you can do which massively reduces transmission. Firstly, good ventilation such as having the windows open (especially on warm sunny days we are experiencing at the moment) can help reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus. Another good way to increase confidence is to provide hand sanitizer stations by the front door and in communal areas will encourage people to ensure they are upholding the new hygiene standards we must all comply to. Lastly, creating a vaccine and testing policy for the business is a simple yet highly effective way to create confidence in your employees that they are safe to return to work.
In the same way that everyone’s concerns are very different, the solutions to their problems aren’t going to be the same either. Ask your staff how the organisation could make a return to work easier on an individual level - that could be more flexibility on a temporary basis or a different work set up. Give each person the chance to express what they need individually and then - within reason - focus on trying to make that happen.
There is bound to be reluctance among some employees when it comes to the return to work - but there are also some simple ways that this can be overcome. if you want help with managing your employees reluctance to return to the office book a consultation with one of our Human Resouce consultants.
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