Leadership teams face many challenging decisions and complex issues as government restrictions continue to ease in the coming months, but none are more important than those involving their employees. As some employees may be ecstatic to come back to the office and experience some normalcy in their life, there will also be a fairly high percentage of people who are hesitant and nervous about returning to the office.
Just as we saw all throughout the pandemic, the organizations that have consistently showed up for their employees in a supportive and caring way have been able to capitalize on this crisis and win the hearts and minds of their people. On the other hand, the organizations that have communicated poorly about the path forward with a lack of empathy significantly damaged trust within the company.
Regardless of where an organization falls between the two, there is an incredible opportunity to take advantage of when it’s time for your workforce to come back to the office. There is a lot of ongoing debates on the future of work and what that looks like, whether some industries and organizations will ever bring their people back to the office, or if there will be a hybrid system set in place moving forward.
Based on my experiences and the organizations that I am working side by side with, I strongly believe that a good amount of organizations will be gradually bringing their people back to the office. Leaders need to take advantage of this opportunity to create an atmosphere that is not only safe for the well-being of their employees, but also inspiring and purpose-driven.
Here are some practical steps that leadership teams should prioritize as employees start returning to the office.
1. Prioritize the Safety and Well-Being of Employees
This seems like it is common sense, but leaders can’t underestimate the importance of putting the safety and well-being of their employees at the top of their returning to the office plans. Even the employees who are overly excited about coming back to the office and experiencing some normalcy in their life, they want to know in detail what the organization will be doing at every turn to ensure the safety and well-being of all employees.
A great example of this is one of my clients in the financial industry. They created a welcome back swag bag that was full of hand sanitizer, face masks, and a detailed guidebook of all the precautions the company will be taking in the coming months as employees will be returning to the office in a phased approach. This gesture of prioritizing the safety and well-being of employees while also laying out a detailed framework of what the company will be doing moving forward was greatly appreciated by the greater organization.
2. Have a Strong Focus on Organizational Purpose
As a leader, one of your greatest opportunities is to capture the power of purpose and communicate it effectively every chance you get. The one similarity that I have seen from exceptional and transformational leaders throughout the pandemic is their ability to connect the organization’s purpose to everything they did. They were constantly looking for ways to bring their purpose to life and share meaningful stories that related to the grand vision of where they aspired to be.
Every employee wants to be reminded that the work they do daily is for a purpose that is much bigger than themselves. Having a strong focus on organizational purpose when employees start returning to work is a practical step that all leaders can commit to in order to increase engagement and excitement for the future.
3. Develop a Company Communication Strategy
When the pandemic forced employees to work from home and organizations all over the world had to shift their entire operating model, one of the benefits that positively impacted many companies is their communication strategy. Organizations had to make sure their teams and different departments were on the same page, as well as communicating with transparency where the organization was and what they would be doing moving forward.
Just because employees will be returning to the office doesn’t mean that leaders should change or limit the frequency of their communication strategy. Leaders should think strongly about the possibility of increasing their communication and develop a company communication strategy.
This communication strategy should be heavily focused on the safety, well-being, and development of your people and not business-related. For example, one of the leadership teams that I am working with has developed a sixth month return to work communication strategy which has a detailed monthly breakdown of who will be delivering the message, the focus of the message, and how the message will be delivered. Instead of just saying they will overcommunicate, they took the time to develop a strategy to hold one another accountable and send a message to the rest of the organization that communication will be a major priority moving forward.
4. Continuously Seek Feedback From Employees
As employees start coming back to the office and return plans are fully underway, leaders should put a strong emphasis on continuously seeking feedback from employees. Whether you set up intimate focus groups, send out quick employee pulse surveys, or have managers gather feedback from direct reports, it’s important to know exactly what employees are thinking and what challenges they are experiencing.
Another benefit of continuously seeking feedback from employees is to search for best practices. What are some of the initiatives that were put in place during the pandemic that may be beneficial to keep doing and what should the organization stop doing?
These are important measures to take as leaders continue to look for creative and meaningful ways to engage and lead their organization into the future.