Our Guide to Welcome Your Team Back to the Office

With vaccination campaigns gaining traction across the country, many employers and office managers are looking to re-engage their teams in the office for the first time since the pandemic began.
Ariel at SmartGift
April 20th 2021Apr 20, 2021

Microsoft is the latest corporate giant to begin plans for how employees can safely return to offices. It’s been over a year since we asked our employees to begin working from home and now we need to find how to respectfully, effectively invite our employees back to the office.

The CDC recommends not having a true “Back To Normal” approach at first—calling for mask and social distancing requirements to be still in place. However, many corporations have already signaled a loosening of these restrictions as the coronavirus recedes from a pandemic to an endemic virus, like that of the seasonal flu.

For tech companies like Microsoft, and many of us, the answer will be a type of hybrid-model that will ease employees back into the workplace. By not requiring employees to return to full-time, 5 days a week schedule, in the beginning will allow your team time to adjust and continue to benefit from the increased productivity associated with remote jobs and working from home.

The key to a successful, welcome back to the office transition will be to keep communication engaging and focus on the employee experience. Currently, the forecasted employee turnover rate for working professionals forced to return to the office post pandemic is nearly 30%. As a manager, this creates a tough situation especially if senior leadership is adamant about having teams return as soon as possible.

To bridge the divide between the interests of management and concerns of employees, here are a few ways to keep leadership happy and employees feeling included:

Understand what your leaders care about

In most cases, having employees return to the office is at the discretion of upper leadership. This means, if you have a boss that lacks sympathy for employee commitments and concerns, such as spreading the virus to an elderly relative, this could create friction within the organizational culture.

Rather, focus on metrics that you know are important to management, for example improving employee retention among women and others who may need to leave to provide childcare, or by retaining employees who are concerned about health risks. There are other ways, outside of retention strategies, that companies like yours can benefit from remote work, such as expanding the potential talent pool outside of your locality.

Identify and address concerns on an individual level

Sometimes, a leader can allow their feelings about one or a few people to unconsciously bias their perception of the whole team. Uncover whether this stigma is at-play in your organization by talking honestly with management about individual’s performance over the past year.

By determining which employees have unsatisfactory productivity at work, you spare the whole team unjust blame and criticism. Moreover, as the manager you now know which employees to schedule one-on-one meetings with to better understand the root of their poor performance.

Highlight aspects of new employee inclusion in the workplace

An inclusive work environment is one where individuals are treated fairly and respectfully with equal access to opportunities and resources, which can contribute to the organization's success.

During this hybrid work approach, this means improving the employee experience by allowing those who prefer to “volunteer” to be among the first to return to the office, thus satisfying executives who wish to see people. For those who continue to work remotely and save time on commutes, it means offering professional development resources that they can use to demonstrate engagement.

Recreate habits that make work feel more normal

There's no doubt that much of our daily work routines that contributed to company culture and open collaboration in the workplace have been disrupted by the pandemic. This can leave management feeling a sense of loss and disarray.

Help your whole team reconnect through virtual events like coffee breaks, happy hours or town halls, even if that means you need to get supplies delivered to employees’ homes. There are now services that help make this easier than ever by allowing recipients to choose their preferred items and delivery addresses.

Engage employees by understanding their individual needs

Just like you, the members of your team have had to adjust their work-life balance in order to accommodate safety protocols around the pandemic. Even across a diverse workforce, common lifestyle changes like a shift to at-home childcare, schooling, and taking care of vulnerable relatives have affected millions of Americans.

Talk to your team individually and learn how their lives have been affected by the pandemic. Investigate whether there are common concerns amongst your team, then, possibly with the help of your HR department, create a forum to openly discuss and resolve these issues and create feedback loops to gauge the success of your transition in real-time.

Finding the balance between employee needs and leadership's wants is a hard yet important task that in an ideal world wouldn’t exist. However, through communication and building empathy around others’ considerations, you can bring your team together and help them through this difficult transition.