Last week saw the final restrictions lifted on the legal need to wear face masks, self-isolate and a number of other residual measures from COVID (in England). Does that mean COVID has been defeated? No - simply that we now have the upper hand.
But it also doesn’t mean that everyone is entirely comfortable with the idea of opening up society with such abandon. People who are vulnerable because of underlying health conditions; or people who have vulnerable relatives will see this as too much too soon.
Why raise this now? Because it could well have an impact on how you seek to embrace a more inclusive return to work policy. Or is it a policy that is needed? Maybe a ‘return to work culture’ may be more appropriate?
Tip 1 - Use the carrot, not the stick
Don’t 'force' people to return to the office for long hours/days. Instead, extoll the merits of collaborative working and the benefits of learning from colleagues. If you're currently hiring, and struggling to fill some vacancies, be sure to make this collaborative working part of your employer value proposition. We've written extensively on this and can read more here!
Tip 2 - Flexibility is key
Allow for flexibility - does it really matter if everyone is in by 8.30am? Maybe a 'core hours' philosophy is a better way. Ensure that on those days when people are expected to be in, they are present during core hours. This can be any range you choose - like 10am to 3.30pm - but make sure you communicate that you can work around the workdays your employees have developed during the pandemic.
Don't forget that some of them have set up new agreements with you to help with their childcare. Don't renege on these agreements for the sake of Monday morning water-cooler chats. Make sure they still feel safe and secure in the routine they've become comfortable with.
Tip 3 - Trust your team
Trust your staff. If you survived COVID as a business, then you probably have a fairly decent business model. But your business survived because people all contributed when restrictions were at their harshest. So if you trusted staff then to do their job, why not trust them now?
Tip 4 - See it as an opportunity
If you were a business that furloughed staff and had to close completely, you may have a lot of people who are now uncertain as to what value they have on the business – "you didn’t need me then, so why should you need me now?"
This will cut deep, so the only way back is to re-build that relationship and show that you have learned to trust people more. Your return to the office approach will let you put your money where your mouth is. Perhaps now is the time to have a less rigid approach to office attendance!
Embrace the change that was thrust upon us. It was in no-one's business plan to endure the best part of 2 years of huge restrictions and economic turmoil. But that wasn’t the fault of your employees, you or your customers. It just happened.
But when it did happen, it gave rise to so many other positives: The end of long rush-hour commutes; the opportunity to spend quality time with family and loved ones; the saving on car/bus/train travel; the need to embrace new and different ways of communicating (how many people really used Teams before lockdown)?
So don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, take the positives and see what you can do to incorporate more of them into your working culture - it just may prove to be the platform for quick recovery.