Preparing for More Employees to Return to the Workplace

Encouraging and welcoming more team members back to the office.

The COVID-19 pandemic and our reaction to it have accelerated an emerging shift in our conventional ways of doing things. As employees grow more accustomed to the flexibility of working from home, many may feel uncertain or unmotivated by the recent announcement made by the government, with up to 75 per cent of staff being allowed to return to the workplace from 5 April onwards.

According to a survey conducted by The Straits Times, 8 out of 10 employees would still prefer to work from home instead. In other words, companies are now facing a new challenge in motivating their employees to return to the office.

Creating a Safe and Conducive Office Environment

1. Explaining the safety protocols
It is obvious that many companies will be busy managing most of their workforce physically returning to work. However, in addition to overseeing the staff, management must ensure that the safety procedures are followed. This is necessary because employees would be concerned about returning to work with others. Prioritising their emotional well-being is a need. One of the best ways to do so is to explain the safety protocol the organisation is implementing. Providing the context for each action can help employees feel more at ease in their workplace.

2. Building a comfortable and conducive work atmosphere
It is important to build a supportive office environment that is both safe and conducive for employees returning to the workplace. Employers can consider sprucing up a part of the office to create a relaxed and inviting atmosphere. An attractive workplace plays a huge role in lifting overall mood and productivity levels. Employees can take short breaks in between work and use the time to recharge both mentally and physically before continuing with their tasks.

On a team level, leaders can start by improving the overall communications within the department to ensure a healthy and open work environment where good team spirit can be fostered among teammates. By involving staff in discussion and other decision-making processes, leaders would be able to hear their suggestions and views, allowing the staff to know their opinions are valued. Leaders can start by soliciting suggestions from the team to optimise an ongoing process, thus increasing their sense of empowerment, growth, and ownership.

Leaders may also take this opportunity to work closely with their staff on their individual performance tasks or goals, providing staff with a clear objective and defined timeline to achieve those objectives. Employees will be more motivated to achieve their goals efficiently and effectively, which will strengthen their sense of belonging to the team and the organisation.

The economic aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many companies to re-adjust their operating processes. They are coined to adapt a self-scheduling method. Even though employees are encouraged to return to office now, it would be a good idea to continue allowing some flexi arrangement for self-scheduling to be done. Reason is though some employees may be eager to leave remote work behind, others coming back after an extended period of remote work may need time to adjust and relook into caregiving responsibilities. Sensitivity to this reality is a must from management. This can also further foster trust between employers and employees.

Continue Adopting Flexible Work Arrangements where Possible

The concept of work-life balance is also inextricably linked to workplace flexibility. An employee can prioritise job demands while still leading a fulfilling personal life. Work should not dominate most, if not all, aspects of life, and employees should be given the flexibility to have a life outside of work.

Employers may begin by enabling their employees to schedule their own workdays and weeks if this does not affect work or productivity. While most of us have become grown accustomed to working from home during the pandemic, another good way to ease employees back into the workplace is to offer flexibility on meal break timings to allow employees to run errands or attend to personal needs.

Encouraging a Growth Mindset

Professional development allows employees to acquire and develop new skills, that leads to improved company performance. It is imperative for employees, regardless of their position, to embrace a growth mindset as this is the key to continuous learning and careers growth.

As leaders, it is important to work together with employees to foster an environment in which the latter can focus on growing their potential rather than just rating or condemning their performance. This can be done by setting a certain cultural expectation that is tolerance of mistakes and failures, which is essential when encouraging employees to take calculated risks or undertake increased leadership responsibilities.

Furthermore, support from leaders for their employees is pivotal. Employees who have embraced a growth mindset should be recognised. When the leader identifies an employee showing growth and improvement, the leader should continue to provide encouragement and additional support to keep them on the track.

Returning to the Workplace

While returning to the workplace is expected as the pandemic eases locally, what is unforeseen is the new set of challenges that employers may face, such as motivating their employees to return. Although this challenge may seem daunting, we should remember that this is not a new issue for any of us.

Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, motivating employees to turn up at the workplace has been a perennial issue faced by employers all around the world. However, by creating a conducive work environment, encouraging a growth mindset, and having flexible work arrangements, your company can be a step closer to overcoming this challenge.