bring employees back

How to Be a 2021 Leader: Help Bring Employees Back on Their Terms

Just when everyone got the hang of working from home, employers are bringing whole departments back to working in office settings.

According to CNBC reporting, Google and Bloomberg are among the 70 percent of companies that intend to put an end to mass telecommuting within the coming few months. Yet not all teleworking employees are eager to change their daily habits once again.

Some people had a chance to discover how they truly worked best. Many found that working from home allowed them to spend more time with family, eat dinner at normal times, exercise during the day, and wake up on their own terms. Pew Research Center insights show that more than one-third of remote workers say they can now balance all their familial and professional responsibilities. Similarly, about half are enjoying the freedom to choose how they divvy up their hours.

How to Be a 2021 Leader

This puts a high degree of pressure on corporate talent managers and leaders like you. On one hand, you want to get your operations back to pre-pandemic norms. On the other hand, you can’t ignore the sweeping effects that the pandemic has had on people’s daily routines. The flexibility to structure one’s day in a more balanced way has been refreshing, and lots of employees learned that remote work could be highly beneficial (and quite productive).

What’s the bottom line? Above all else, you have to understand that telework may feel isolating to some, but not to all. A good number of your employees won’t immediately forget the advantages they enjoyed by avoiding hairy commutes—or the need to dress up beyond throwing on a “Zoom shirt” now and then. And most won’t love paying once again for fuel, daycare, or expensive lunches.

This doesn’t mean that employees will launch walkouts (or perhaps home work-ins?) en masse. Most understand that getting everyone back into the office setting can be advantageous. At the same time, if a company is working to bring employees back, workers expect and welcome patience, creativity, flexibility, and empathetic leadership from their managers. Begin by taking measures to support an environment of collaboration and connection.

1. Allow flexibility for telecommuters returning to “home base”

Even as organizations bring employees back to work, some workers may want additional flexibility to deal with the transition. Support your people by enabling them to potentially switch working hours or even try hybrid workweek solutions.

Can’t offer a hybrid option long-term? Float one in the interim just to ease everyone’s tensions. Let’s say you have employees who can’t quite make the transition seamlessly within a week or two. Maybe they have to line up babysitters, or perhaps they are still caring for sick relatives, or simply need the time to adapt to the change. Seek out ways to gradually bring employees back at a pace that works for everyone.

2. Continue to overcommunicate with your team

During COVID, you probably began to communicate more often with your team members to fill in the interaction and collaboration gaps. Now isn’t the time to scale back on initiating conversations or sending emails. Instead, keep up with consistent dialogues and informational flow. Set up routine check-ins too. Ask employees how they’re doing, what you can do to support them, and whether they’re feeling overwhelmed.

Overall, make transparency and open dialogue your guiding motto and mantra. Even though the office may seem “normal,” it’s not. Workers are hungry for information they didn’t think about before 2020.

3. Focus on your employees’ safety needs

Many workers, including ones who are vaccinated, remain wary about coming back to an environment where they see colleagues—and maybe clients or vendors—in person. Ease their fears about their health and well-being by sharing the safety measures your company has put in place.

These could include building enhancements, workstation rearrangements, or cleaning protocols. Again, it’s not possible for you to overemphasize what your organization is doing to keep everyone as protected as possible.

4. Anticipate people’s psychological needs

Although you can’t predict how each worker will react when you bring employees back to the office, you can plan for some emotional ups and downs. Many employees re-established their top personal priorities during the pandemic. This means they might need different types of emotional support than they did before.

For instance, a team member who experienced extreme stress or anxiety over the course of the past year may need to transition more slowly into pre-COVID workflows. Stay attuned to each person’s responses. As Gallup has noted, leaders likely will have to face some hard, deep conversations. Your talks may make you uncomfortable or take you outside your element. Need help? Lean on your trusted human resources representative or employee assistance vendor for guidance.

It can be tempting to just bring your whole staff back into the fold at once and be done with it. But you can’t pretend that the past year didn’t happen. Instead of moving suddenly, take some small steps toward the next norm. Your people will appreciate your concern for their well-being.