After over a year of working from home, many employees are, understandably, feeling apprehensive about returning to the office. Others have simply grown accustomed to the flexibility that accompanies remote working and are reluctant to give it up in favour of long commutes and less family time. So, is it time to rethink the way in which your employees work long term?
Should work become more flexible?
The pandemic has proved to many businesses that might have previously felt reluctant to allow their staff to work remotely that a virtual workplace can be successful, prompting calls from many employees to maintain some element of remote working once the coronavirus restrictions are eased.
Can you require your employees to work in the office?
Employers do have the right to dictate terms of working for staff and, should you wish to, you could make it a contractual obligation for employees to be physically present in the office every day. It is worth noting, however, that even when restrictions do cease entirely, there may still be guidance for clinically vulnerable people or pregnant women who are currently unable to have the vaccine, and this may leave some of your workforce still working virtually.
Additionally, it’s probably worth considering whether it’s a good idea to be completely rigid as to how staff work in a post COVID world. For the sake of morale and team working, it may be positive to encourage – or even require – employees to come physically to work a number of days a week, but forcing reluctant workers to be present every day could be counterproductive.
If you completely reject the idea of a blended way of working, your employees might start to become resentful, which could hurt their engagement and productivity. Furthermore, even if you’re not offering flexibility over hours and place or work, the chances are, someone else will be, and staff might start to look elsewhere for employment, which will cost you time and money as you have to recruit and train new team members.
By giving employees some flexibility to choose the way in which they work, you’ll probably end up with a grateful workforce who will be keen to work effectively within your new working structure, which will boost the bottom line of your business and reduce HR headaches. It is worthwhile being understanding of the reasons why employees may not want to return to the workplace and put in place a steady plan to support their transition back to the work environment.
Managing those who are nervous about returning to the workplace
It is important to be mindful of the anxiety that your employees may feel around returning to work; after all, for over a year now the message from the government has been that home is the safest place to work and therefore it’s only natural that some people have built up worries about the workplace and commuting, especially on public transport.
The best way to manage such employees is as follows:
• maintaining an open dialogue with them
• keeping them informed of your timeline towards returning to work
• informing them of the practices you’re putting in place to keep them safe
• investing in additional wellbeing support such as counselling and training
• consulting staff and getting their input into how the workspace will be managed safely.
Blend between office and home working
Depending on the industry in which you work, the likelihood is that most of your staff will opt for a blend between office and home working when we return to the workplace. To ensure that this happens successfully, it’s going to be up to business owners, managers and HR professionals to put in place the necessary structures.
This will include practicalities, such as:
• making sure that employees, whose areas of business are heavily reliant upon each other, overlap
• deciding how many days per week you’re going to need your staff to be in your place of work
• ensuring there are enough resources available (work stations, equipment etc) for the rota that you decide on.
Ultimately, with the right arrangements in place, as well as a collaborative approach between you and your staff and effective communication, you should be able to manage the return to work effectively to ensure an engaged, happy, productive workforce.
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