Future of Work : Companies helping employees return to work

Khair Ull Nissa Sheikh(Executive Director at World Trade Center) - December 26, 2021 - - 0 |
Future of Work : Companies helping employees return to work

With more and more people getting vaccinated, businesses around the world are helping their employees return to work safely; this calls for celebration after months of lockdown and uncertainty. It is clear that a few organizations will return to their pre-pandemic ways of working, nevertheless, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to what the future of work will look like.

However, a well-thought out plan and strategy is required, with a few key mandatory steps:

  1. It is important for all involved to be mentally prepared to return to work.
  2. Experts must elicit information on the health and legal risks which come with reopening, and ascertain how they plan on helping employees returning to the office.
  3. Employers must also consider the safety of unvaccinated workers; there are myriads of things companies can do to create a safe workplace, from enforcing health and safety guidelines to providing mental health tools and resources – the options are plenty.
  4. From safety measures and vaccinations to the potential discovery of another new variant, businesses will have to adjust to the new normal. Companies must thoroughly think about safety measures, vaccine mandates, and employee protocols.
  5. Imagery is powerful in helping people cope with anxiety-filled situations. When companies do this, it will help the company gear up emotionally.

Look Into a Phased Approach for Returning to Work:

  1. If your workforce is currently working from home, bringing every worker back at the same time can be threatening. Doing so can lead to increased transmission and chances of high risk cases. Instead, a phased approach gives you the opportunity to make adjustments if issues come up.
  2. A return to work plan in multiple phases will require employers to redefine how their business offices run. The pandemic caused a fundamental change in how offices function.
  3. For example, employees may only be able to use the escalators to go up. If they want to go down, they may have to take the stairs to ensure social distancing between employees. Employers may also need to develop a plan for the cafeteria, which can include:
  • New hours of operation
  • One-way traffic flow
  • Encouraging the use of contactless payments

Legal aspects 

  1. It’s imperative that company’s legal team reviews the business’ return to work plan and policies to make sure it complies with the laws. For example, if you’re deciding which employees will return to the office and who will continue working remotely, it’s important that your business makes “legitimate non-discriminatory decisions” related to who’s returning to work.
  2. Employers must be able to rescind decisions regarding the selection of returning workers with legitimate business reasons.

It is understood that there is now an urgency to return to the office and navigate the demanding future of work transformation journey. To traverse through the future of work, companies will need to be agile in adapting to changing conditions. The pandemic is filled with examples of companies that have survived the worst, because of their agility towards change and ability to respond to that change. Even then, returning to work may look different across companies, regions, and also industries. Some industries follow a certain trend – with financial institutions like banks – due to challenges of compliance, security, nature of the business, vulnerability of breaches – largely favouring office work. While tech companies are largely tilting more towards remote work.

Challenges like Labour shortage push companies to listen to their employees in order to retain them. There’s no option to cutting corners. Safety of employees, along with balancing the business needs, remains prime priority and employers are facing challenges of creating a welcoming, safe environment that offers their employees a compelling reason to come in.

More than before, in a hybrid workspace, companies are trying out a plethora of new approaches to help their employees return to work. Employers are prioritizing and considering not just physical but mental well-being of their employees as well. They understand that for long term performance of their people, it would require adjustments in workplace and working patterns, to reassure people who are anxious about returning.

Companies are paving the way for yet another change, and have taken steps to support their employees to return to work:

  • Stringent hygiene measures such as frequent cleaning, high quality air filtration systems, acrylic screens between shared desk spaces, assure employees that workplaces are clean and safe.
  • There’s a need to be proactive with communication. Explain to employees ahead of time what to expect when they return to the office. Tell them what’s changed and what the ‘new normal’ looks like.
  • Bringing employees back to work in a phased plan can help reduce transmissions among workers. Throughout the entire return-to-work process, it’s imperative that employers continue to monitor data and trends in and outside of the workplace. And to ensure a smooth return, communicate regularly with employees about any changes or issues.
  • In places with restrictions of space, where rearrangements are not feasible, ROTA system, staggered return, or introducing phased return where people aren’t expected to be fully operational in an office can be introduced. Few companies require their employees to come into the office on alternate days, some ask different departments to come on a roster basis.
  • Rearrangement of desks and redesigning of workspaces for creating a supportive work environment that alleviate stress and burnout is now a given.
  • Implementing a one way system to avoid cluttering is inescapable.
  • Given the increased rates of depression, anxiety, stress, and grief – employees have been coming back with an additional baggage. Offering places for relaxation such as outdoor spaces or mediation rooms is required. More employers are now promoting wellbeing training to respond to mental health needs and providing easy-to-access support programs. Some companies like WTC, have partnered with a provider of mental health resources, enabling staff to access online therapy and coaching. They are also focussed on outdoor spaces to allow employees to re-energize through the working day.
  • Employers can create a plan to help employees feel at ease. One idea is to offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). This gives employees access to services to help them with personal or work-related problems.
  • It has become obligatory to create an open environment of communication and ensuring that employees feel that they are able to raise any issue or concern and feel confident of being taken seriously. Building an inclusive environment where employees feel safe is imperative.
  • It’s also essential for supervisors and managers to have training on how to recognize if any worker is struggling. A slip in performance may occur shortly after an employee returns to work, so managers need to be comfortable with having a conversation to understand what’s going on.
  • Recognizing and rewarding the employee’s efforts improves job satisfaction, and equally supports mental wellbeing and spurs innovation. This has become crucial to employees as most believe that their work in the past 18 to 20 months has not sufficiently been recognized.
  • Reconnecting employees to the company vision by boosting staff engagement and creating a collaborative environment is binding.

As people adapt to new ways of working, it’ll be essential for companies to pay careful attention to change management. Taking everyone through the journey successfully will require careful consideration of how to reshape the corporate culture to support new working models.

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