We were suddenly forced to work remotely during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. When asked to work in a completely different style, it was disorienting and anxiety-provoking. Since I was used to being in the office five days a week, it took me months to adjust. What is the best way to structure my day? What is the best way to interact with my team? What is Zoom and how does it work? What can I do to maintain camaraderie with my colleagues? What should I wear to be comfortable and feel professional?
Consider that we are being asked to do it all over again.
Employees experience many different types of anxiety when asked to return to work :
- Social anxiety: Working remotely requires less dressing up, no awkward greetings, and filters can replace makeup.
- Logistical anxiety: From juggling personal commitments to being able to wait for the cable repairman, adjusting to less flexibility can be challenging for many employees.
- Professional anxiety: Hybrid work models leave employees uncertain how their decisions are perceived by managers and peers, or how their office time will affect their careers.
- Routine disruption: They say if you do something daily for 21 days, it becomes a habit, and if you continue it for 90 days, it becomes a lifestyle change. Our day consists of dozens and dozens of habits that have become integrated into our lifestyle and need to be altered.
- Health anxiety: Vaccines aren’t 100% effective, so people may still feel nervous about returning to a doctor’s office, even with reduced capacity.
What Is the Importance of Anxiety Around Returning To The Office?
Companies are already experiencing challenges in recruitment and retention as they call employees back into the office. Some employees have moved locations and do not want to return. Others are moving to companies with greater flexibility. I see the high volume of talent in the market on a daily basis as an executive in the recruiting industry.
In a job market as volatile as the one we are currently experiencing, companies have the best chance of retaining their top talent by making their return to work as productive and positive as possible.
1. Communicate Early And Frequently
Even if you haven’t ironed out the details, if you plan to have your employees back at work after Labor Day now is the time to tell them. Provide employees with as much lead time as possible so they can plan childcare, move back if they have relocated, and consider their new routine. Communicate updates as soon as they become available.
2. Considering a phased return
Especially if the office has undergone substantial changes, it may be beneficial to have employees in the office less frequently to begin with. We are getting rid of dedicated desks and moving to a hoteling system where employees can reserve a desk and keep their personal belongings in lockers.
3. Meet with each employee where they are
Managers should have the discretion to be responsive to individual situations and needs of all kinds. Attending a child’s soccer game or running midday have become rituals for many people during the pandemic. Set up a framework that is firm (it will be broader for some companies than others) and determine how much flexibility can be offered within it.
4. Reinforce The Benefits Of The Office
Employees will be more excited about returning if they appreciate the benefit of returning. My business relies on real-time updates on business activity to drive success in a way that cannot be replicated remotely. Highlight the moments when being in the office leads to big ideas and breakthroughs.
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5. Organize structured events for your team
A happy workforce depends on workplace friendships. Employees at companies with a culture of friendship have higher engagement, satisfaction, and loyalty. The strength of workplace friendships may have lessened during the pandemic, and many feel out of practice socializing. Hold regular team events instead of generic happy hours. Create a structured activity that will help employees interact without the pressure of striking up a casual conversation.
Returning to the office may be bumpy, and there is no perfect solution to this unprecedented challenge. Every company’s culture and workforce are different, and determining a path forward will require some trial and error. Compassionately listen to your employees. Ask for feedback. Make adjustments and be humble. If you are sensitive to the anxiety of your workforce, you can come out of this transition with a stronger employer brand and company culture that will keep talent loyal.