If anyone had told any of us just over a year ago that we would now be exploring ‘how to return to workplaces’, it would not have been believed.
And yet, here we are.
Facing yet another transition, hopefully a positive one, but one filled with lots of factors and considerations – especially for HR professionals.
Because everything has changed when it comes to remote vs office-based working.
Perceptions. Productivity. Practicality
Let’s take these three interlinked elements.
Perceptions of home or flexible working have seen a seismic shift since this became a requirement and therefore normality for so many people. Distrust – once endemic of home-workers in some organisations - had to be replaced with trust. And that trust has been built because employees adapted, performed and showed themselves to be hugely productive over the past year. This has meant some line managers and leaders have had to change their approach to measuring individual performance. If it’s not the numbers of hours at a desk or visibility in the office, it must surely be around customer experiences and business performance.
Productivity has also seen a boost. According to productivity organisation Be the Business, UK businesses innovated the equivalent of three years in the space of three months last year. Necessity is the mother of invention after all, and businesses soon realised that if they did not do this, they could be left behind. But productivity gains also occurred due to reduced travel and other shifts in working practices with video conferences, meetings and networking saving time and money. A challenge for productivity though has been employee engagement. Businesses have had to learn fast how to motivate and engage their employees, now distanced, without the benefit of morale boosting team events, socials, face to face appraisals and day-to-day camaraderie against a backdrop of national anxiety and fear over the pandemic.
Which brings us on to the practicalities. Without technology none of this would have been possible. But digitisation, e-commerce, video calls, home laptops and smart phones have enabled business continuity and communication.
Managing much of all this came under the remit of HR. And so will the return, which for many will look like the much-anticipated ‘hybrid return’. Faced with the next challenge, where will the focus of HR teams need to lie?
Working arrangements under new expectations, changed living or family circumstances and a demand for more flexible working cultures will naturally make things more complex. It might be that you need to operate a rota or team pods with all the administration and individual needs and demands that go with it.
In some industries, business leaders may want all teams to return to the office and believe that home or remote working isn’t the right culture for them. But as HR professionals you may need to manage difficult emotions or demands if some staff don’t feel ready or able to return to a workplace full-time.
Communication, motivation and engagement
Listening to everyone – from the leadership through to line managers and teams will be crucial to find a happy balance that works for everyone and is able to deliver high levels of performance, customer service levels and innovation.
Hybrid working will require a far greater effort to ensure a hierarchy does not creep in, damaging relationships between departments.
Attention will need to be paid to how social events, customer meetings and networking can and will take place, how brainstorming, ideas and innovation can still be encouraged, how communication, feedback and employee voices can be heard.
Recruitment, talent attraction, inductions
You may have recruited during lockdown, and these employees may never have seen the office or met their managers, leaders and colleagues in person. Integrating them into a workplace culture will be essential and may need consideration of inductions, social events and ensuring they are well looked after.
Similarly, recruiting new talent and interviewing will have taken place over video call over the past year, HR teams may want to consider whether there are sensible efficiencies in continuing with this, for first interviews at least, but also how being able to offer a more flexible and hybrid approach to office working may make a wider pool of talent available.
Mental health and wellbeing
As we go back to ‘normal’ it may be easy to slip back into fast and furious working to make up for lost time. But it will be important for the focus on mental health and well-being to stay because the impact of Covid will be long-lasting.
Some people may have suffered considerable anxiety and personal issues during this time and need support and easing back in – particularly if they are nervous around returning to the workplace. You may have to consider whether vaccines are important to your organisations and customers as well as Covid safe practices and balance the rights and feelings of your employees with legal regulations and keeping customers safe. This is unchartered territory for HR departments but likely to become high on the agenda as our return to normality progresses.
Paying more attention to mental health and well-being will also have benefits in terms of employee engagement – and performance. It can be tied into socials with company wide exercise drives or become encouraged as part of the day such as walks, cycling to work, access to yoga or other well-being practices and professionals.
With the unprecedented reliance on technology over the past year, you may want to review the use of technology and look at best practices for the future.
Can greater use of video calls help reduce travel time and create opportunities for accessing talent in different regions and for those needing more flexible hours?
Are you concerned about ‘Zoom fatigue’, and want to follow the lead of an organisation like Citibank which has banned Zooms on a Friday to give some relief.
Has your business fast adopted new technology or digitisation? Can you now take a breath to engage staff in what works and how further investment could help them in their roles and improve their performance and quality of work?
The factors, questions and work involved in bringing everyone back into the workplace in some capacity is going to be a big and wide-ranging challenge for HR.
But it’s also an opportunity.
Because getting this right could lay the foundation for a high performing culture, a strong and attractive employer brand and a team who feel respected, settled, supported and therefore motivated to perform.Back to the lastest news