The Great Reopening looms – or maybe it’s already launched. How can HR make it truly “great” for employees?
It won’t be science. It’ll be more like art, mostly because we’ve never experienced something like this before. Just like we’ve never experienced a work and life disruption like the pandemic caused.
“Companies and employees are rethinking what they want out of work,” said Mark Lobosco, VP of Talent Solutions at LinkedIn. “For HR leaders, this is an opportunity to make a real difference. Now is the time to adopt solutions that make this new world of work better than the old one. Creating a culture of flexibility — one that fosters true work-life balance — will reap long-term rewards. In short, work will fit into life — not the other way around.”
It may not be an easy go at first (at least). One-third of employees who have returned to the workplace say it’s a drain on their mental health, McKinsey researchers found. And half of those who are expected back soon say they anticipate the same negative effects – anxiety, depression and/or distress.
“It’s not like we haven’t been working. If you look at the data … you’ll see that people are working more, longer hours,” said Mary Mesaglio, Managing VP Analyst of Research at Gartner in the webinar “Tips To Pursue and Traps To Avoid in the Great Reopening.” “We’re calling it ‘The Reopening’ and sometimes ‘The Recovery’ because we can not and should not call it “return to work” because people have been working really, really hard.”
Fortunately, there are some things HR pros and front-line managers can do to ease stress and make the Great Reopening something employees want to be part of.
Here are new ideas and tips:
Help employees connect
The good news is many employees want to come back to the office for a variety of reasons. So you’ll want to capitalize on what already has them eager and engaged.
At the top of their list: 75% of employees say they want to connect with team members, according to Conference Board researchers. Nearly half say they want to brainstorm with their teams.
On the less formal side, more than half want to socialize and get together with colleagues. And 40% want to go to organizational events and activities.
Bottom line: People want to be with people again.
So let your front-line managers know many employees are ready to have team meetings and brainstorming sessions. You might set up meeting space schedules so they can easily plan time and purpose together.
Now might be a good time to pull together your social team, too. Or ask for a group of volunteers to start planning events and activities that appeal to people across the spectrum of COVID-19 comfort levels.
Draw clear boundaries
One of the biggest drawbacks to remote and hybrid work is the blurry line between work and life. Employees across dozens of studies said they couldn’t disconnect and felt overwhelmed while working from home.
Create clear boundaries between work and home life, and you can make the Great Reopening more appealing.
Here’s what employees in the Conference Board study said are the best ways to help them make a clean break:
- Encouragement. Give more than lip service. Encourage employees to disconnect at the end of the work day. Remind managers to not expect after-hour work or responses to messages.
- A clean slate. Employees want to be able to take vacation or personal time guilt-free. That’s a result of a culture where management promotes time off as a deserved way to disconnect, relax and recharge. They also give employees the space to step away and backup resources so they aren’t just working extra before and after vacation to do all their work anyway.
- Scheduling flexibility. Employees prefer the ability to schedule blocks of deep work so they can accomplish more distraction-free and be flexible with other time. One way: Create “organizational off-limit blocks” – time when no meetings or calls can be scheduled so all employees can work individually.
Beware of burnout
Many people are anxious about returning to the office for a variety of reasons: They’re used to the new remote routine. They’re afraid of getting sick. They don’t want rigid schedules. And that will quickly lead them to burnout.
So you might be tempted to put off the return to work, but Rahaf Harfoush, executive director of the Red Thread Institute of Digital Culture and author of Hustle & Float, suggests you don’t. Instead, manage the anxiety that comes with the Great Reopening.
Harfoush suggested these two ways:
- Re-establish rituals. How you gathered before – perhaps in large groups for fun reasons – may not work for many employees now. You might consider turning some social events into supportive events. For instance, offer a time and a place for employees to share their pandemic experiences and reflect on what’s happened since they’ve last worked together.
- Check the creep. Many people took on additional and more difficult roles throughout the pandemic – either because others left or roles changed. Now, what was likely meant to be temporary, has creeped into their jobs permanently without further compensation or loss of lesser duties. Re-assess duties and responsibilities to make sure employees aren’t overwhelmed.
Focus on outcomes, not inputs
Most companies still plan on some kind of hybrid schedule, so the Great Reopening in many places, might be more like the Mediocre Reopening.
And that might be cause for HR leaders and everyone in leadership to rethink how and where people work, and change perspective.
“What you offer to your people in terms of flexibility matters a lot in how you perform in the war for talent,” Mesaglio said. “I would encourage anyone to really think about the future of work … not only in terms of location. We’re talking about leaders not making arbitrary decisions.”
That means, it might not be the best idea to determine the number of days and exact days employees are in. If the work gets done, does it matter if it’s Tuesday and Thursday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.? Or can it happen on Mondays and Thursdays between noon and midnight?
“It’s not just a location decision,” Mesaglio said. “It’s about flexibility and autonomy for your people.”
Even better, you might push those decisions down to the team level, where managers and employees can figure out what works best for their workflow.