The COVID-19 pandemic caused a shift in the workplace never before seen in human history. Previously unimaginable numbers of employees were working from home partially or completely to minimize or eliminate the possibility of employees coming into the office and catching the virus. Now that therapeutics and vaccines for COVID-19 are widely available now, and the survival rate of the virus is on par with the flu or other seasonal allergies, many companies are having their employees come back into the office. This can be a complex and deeply impactful process, so smart companies are doing lots of planning before making any announcements in hopes that employees will be happy and the rollout will be successful. Here are some key factors in how to keep employees happy when having their employees come back into the office.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but the first thing employees want from a company asking them to come back into the office is honesty. No matter the industry, people do not like being lied to or given the runaround. If the overall “why” employees need to come back into the office boils down to vague pronouncements about “the company being a family” or something similar, expect to have a lot of unhappy employees if not a high rate of turnover. Companies can be smart while they are being honest too of course. Companies saying “we do not trust our employees to have the same productivity at home as in the office” may be honest but not very smart/insulting to employees. Smart companies wanting to make a similar point though can include hard data/statistics about productivity of employees working from home vs in the office and also highlight interactions that are exclusive to the office which increase comradery (Taco Tuesday, ad-hoc discussions between meetings, etc).
Consistency is another factor employees report as being important (per HR surveys) when it comes to work from home policies. Employees are going to talk to each other and will literally be able to see if one employee is still allowed to work from home while another is not. Some companies are opting for all employees, no matter where they fall in the hierarchy or what their functional area is to come back in to the office the same amount of days, while others allow variation. Some companies are requiring 100% back in the office while others are requiring employees to come in only some of the days during the week. How narrow or wide a company plans to make their work from home or work from office policies, smart companies seek to be as consistent as possible to avoid making some employees feel like they are being treated unfairly (which will not make them happy).
At odds with consistency is flexibility, but it is a must when talking about employees (who are people) because every person is different and has different things going on in their lives. Flexibility in this context can come in many forms, from only requiring employees to come back into the office some days per week, not all, or saying that coming into the office is an option/strongly recommended, but not a requirement, where applicable/reasonable.