In a recent article on Bloomberg, several banks are indicating that it's time for their employees to think about returning to work. While your organization might not be a Wall Street financial institution, the conversations about when it is okay to start inviting employees back to the office are probably happening in your boardrooms as well.
The decision to allow employees to continue to work remotely, come back to the office, or work in some sort of hybrid environment is very unique to each organization. It could be driven by a variety of factors including the operation, industry, number of employees, etc. But at some point, organizations will want to start chatting with employees about spending time in the office. When that time comes, the organization needs to have a plan.
Not just a logistics plan for how to safely bring people into the office, but a plan to set employees up for success. Both are important.
My guess is that organizations are working on the logistics plan right now. It will include decisions on how many employees can be in the building at the same time and how furniture should be spaced around the office. The plan will also include information on proper cleaning, wearing masks, and distancing requirements.
What organizations might not be talking about is the plan for helping employees feel comfortable in their return to the workplace. Some employees haven't seen their workplace in a year. This will almost be like starting a new job. In fact, maybe the answer to this situation is to treat an employee's return to the office almost like they are a new employee. The organization could welcome employees back with a mini onboarding program.
Traditional onboarding programs do two things: 1) they help individuals socialize into their new surroundings and 2) they give them the tools to be productive. Some of the activities and topics that might be included in a return to the office mini onboarding program are:
SOCIALIZATION: While employees have probably seen each other via video calls, it's not the same as being in the same room. Managers should try to have an in-person one-on-one with each employee to welcome them back and answer any questions. Create opportunities for employees to reconnect with their coworkers. And don't require that all the conversations be about work. As employees get more comfortable, the discussions will become work related.
PRODUCTIVITY: Returning to the office doesn't necessarily mean a return to pre-pandemic policies, procedures, rules, and guidelines. The organization might have discovered a new and better way of doing something. This is a perfect time to convey and confirm how work will get done. Don't make the assumption that employees know this information. Over the past year, employees have gotten used to working remotely.
This type of return-to-work onboarding session doesn't have to be lengthy. Its purpose isn't to cover everything because these employees already know the organization and the job. This program is focused on giving employees the opportunity to reacquaint themselves with the new work environment, the changes in their responsibilities, and the people they will be working with.
Organizations are very focused on economic recovery right now. And they should be. It's one of the reasons they're talking about when to invite employees back to the workplace. The sooner everyone is able to safely and comfortably work together, the sooner things will resume to some level of normalcy. Which hopefully translates into high performance and economic recovery.
But, if organizations don't take the time to set employees up for success, those efforts might not take off as quickly as organizations would like. A return-to-work onboarding session could be an effective and efficient step toward the high performance that organizations are looking for.
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