What will your back to work look like?

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Battling the pandemic for over a year has left all of us with many uncertainties. Since mid-March, when the Coronavirus outbreak was declared a national emergency, most employers (and their employees) across the nation had to radically change how they do business. From new safety practices put in place to protect workers, to the work-from-home orders that many states have mandated, doing your job during the pandemic has been a change from your norm.

With the roll-out of the vaccine, we are starting to see changes reminiscent of pre-Covid life. Some offices are slowly opening with limited capacity while others are left vacant. Many people question if it is safe to return to work. Employers are faced with challenging questions on how best to ease the concerns of their employees. For example, are you confident that you have a plan for your employees to safely return to the office? If not, have you set up a long term remote work plan?

Here are several key things to think about when keeping in mind the best interest and safety of your employees.

5 Key Areas to Consider:

Talent acquisition and retention - Virtual hiring is here to stay. Remote employees will become normalized. A hiring process that consists of virtual and in-person steps will become the new standard. Increased engagement, lower costs and a shorter hiring process are a few of the benefits of the shift to internal mobility, but the biggest benefit may be improved retention.

Flexibility and better work-life balance for employees - Many U.S. workers now consider work/life balance and flexibility to be the most important factors in considering job offers. Flexible work arrangements offer many benefits to both employers and employees. It helps boost productivity and creates a better work/life balance for workers. A study by Nicholas Bloom and co-authors found that when employees opted in to WFH policies, their productivity increased.

Cost management - Employers can experience cost savings, improved attendance and productivity, as well as an increase in employee engagement. Organizational leaders, desperate to shed costs, found they could do more with less real estate.

Employee experience - Most companies are still struggling to navigate this sudden change in the employee experience. Newly hired employees have only met many of their co-workers virtually. "It does not work as well when people don't know one another," says Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan. The loss of connectivity is something to consider. Remote employees have learned that home and office life can and must coexist, but be aware that it can be stressful for both employees and supervisors.

Changes to management structure and style - Managing the change from a traditional work environment to one with more flexible work arrangements can bring many issues to light. Often we notice upper management's resistance to change. Some managers have a hard time figuring out the right balance of supervision of work. Employees may begin to feel like they have someone breathing down their backs. Employees may even experience the complete opposite and feel as though they have very little communication or connection to management and other employees by being isolated remotely.

When considering if returning to work is right for your organization is it important to review the pros and cons.

Pros

Commuting - The shift to remote work has also been beneficial for both people's wallets and in reducing their carbon footprints.

Flexibility - Working remotely or at flexible times allows employees to match their work environment to their working style.

Financial Costs - Companies that maintain large physical offices will see cost savings on everything from utilities to rent and insurance.


Cons

Employee on-boarding and training - Remote training is often challenging for new employees that are hands-on learners, and for supervisors to get knew the team.

Team building and work culture - Remote team building and work culture has dramatically shifted to virtual events making it easier to feel removed and unconnected.

Communication - Some employers are failing to maintain clear, consistent communication with their employees.

While the transition to remote work was undoubtedly stressful for everyone involved, returning to the office will bring its own set of anxieties. It is important to offer reassurance. Evaluate the key areas that have been touched upon previously and implement a plan that will best serve your employees and their safety. The first step towards reducing employee uncertainty is to develop a shared understanding of how your company will navigate through the rest of the pandemic as well as future crisis. There needs to be open and honest communication with employees. Upper management needs to communicate the changes and priorities required to overcome these challenges, and how these changes will reinforce and protect the company's established values and purpose. Develop a return to work plan that will make employees feel safe.

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