While things with the pandemic are moving in a positive direction, more and more companies are making the transition and bringing workers back to the office.
Whether workers are coming in full-time or just a few days a week, it can be an adjustment for everyone. Change is tough, and even if they hated it, employees got used to working from home.
But just because the transition will be challenging doesn’t mean employers shouldn’t try.
A new plan
Dean Adelman, chief human resources officer for packaging solutions company Veritiv, tackled this head on recently. He and other company leaders knew it was in everyone’s best interest to bring their employees back.
“Returning to the office was important,” Adelman said. “Not only for our culture, but also for employee development and celebrations. With these thoughts in mind, I knew we needed to develop some sort of hybrid working model to take advantage of the benefits of both remote and in-person work.”
This resulted in the creation of Veritiv’s Flexible Workplace Program, which was officially launched on March 14. Under this plan, all employees are in the office on Mondays and Thursdays between 9 am and 3 pm. Managers can organize in-office meetings on other days if they choose.
Employees are also offered two fully remote work weeks in 2022, which they can take at their discretion, giving them the flexibility to travel or be at home when they need to be.
Communicated every step
But coming up with a hybrid work plan is easier said than done — particularly when plans keep shifting. Adelman said Veritiv initially wanted to bring people back in September 2021, but the surge of Delta and Omicron variants derailed those plans.
“We had to be sure our employees felt heard and were updated with a sense of urgency throughout the process,” Adelman said.
Because Veritiv already had a good communication plan in place, it was a lot easier to get word out about the Flexible Workplace Program. In the weeks leading up to the big return, Adelman shared a “Guide to Returning to Veritiv Offices” with everyone. This document contained everything from company COVID-19 protocols to office etiquette and technology.
“Knowing any transition period can be stressful, I wanted to be extremely communicative with our employees and allow them the opportunity to share any questions or concerns with our guidelines,” Adelman said.
Of course, Veritiv is keeping an eye on employee satisfaction with returning to the office, but so far, it appears many are excited to be back in person with their colleagues again.
The little things
Adelman knew the work didn’t just stop there. Veritiv had some employees who were hired remotely during the pandemic and had never set foot in the office before. “As an HR leader, building a sense of community was top of mind for me while preparing to return to the office,” Adelman said.
Veritiv did little things like decorating the office and preparing swag bags for employees’ return, but leaders also took advantage of the company’s communication platform, on which they shared photos of teams reuniting and other fun office anecdotes. This helped so many people connect with each other again and feel like they had a place at the company.
Adelman also worked to make the return to the office as fun as possible. The office was decorated with balloons and “Welcome Back!” banners. Senior leaders were circulating to greet employees as they arrived, and a catered breakfast or lunch was offered. Gift bags awaited everyone at their desks, too.
Changing with the world
Adelman emphasized the importance of checking in with everyone. Company leaders are often eager to get employees back into the office, but a big change like this can spark anxiety in your workers.
“Everyone has different comfort levels with the pandemic, so it’s imperative to monitor the COVID-19 cases in your area, develop safety protocols and communicate them widely throughout the organization,” Adelman said.
It also helps to talk up all the benefits of bringing employees back to the office, such as improving productivity and business function, and fulfilling the human need for camaraderie and connection.
“The world has changed since the last time we were all in the office together, and business must change with it,” Adelman said. “We instituted our Flexible Workplace Program to demonstrate our commitment to adjusting to the new normal.
“Being thoughtful about returning to the office improves employee morale and builds excitement for the future.”