While no one knows exactly how workers will react when employers call them to return to work in offices, factories, retail and other facilities, there is one thing that’s certain – basing your decision on guesses will make the process harder than it should be.
Yet, according to an ongoing survey by HR and benefits consultants Mercer LLC, only about a third of U.S. employers responding say they have increased their focus on “employee listening” during the pandemic.
And that means that many employers haven’t taken the time to set up a formal process to talk to their employees and find out how they feel about coming back.
But it is clear that, as they plan for employees to return to work, organizations must look beyond sanitizing, masks and social distancing.
While some employees are eager to get back to working onsite full time, others are determined to continue working from home or at least having a more flexible work schedule that balances the two.
Preparation has to account for the wide range of employee opinions and expectations about returning to physical work locations.
“For companies making return-to-office plans, now is a critical time to reach out to employees and ask for their feedback,” said Patrick Hyland, PhD, Director of Research and Development at Mercer. “By engaging in a dialogue with employees, leaders can gain valuable insight about their concerns and challenges, establish trust, foster engagement and build a stronger sense of community.”
Gathering employee RTW input
According to Mercer, employers should gather employee feedback at three critical points:
- Pre-return: While the workforce is still remote, it is important to start a two-way dialogue to understand their perspectives, share preliminary plans and solicit feedback. This can be done through manager-led discussions, virtual town halls and listening sessions, or online focus groups. Plan to conduct these conversations one to two months prior to return.
- The first month back in the office: Once employees have returned to the office, it is important to gather feedback on a regular basis. Setting up a COVID-concerns hotline and conducting a series of brief pulse surveys provide forums for employees to share their questions, reservations and observations. This feedback allows organizations to make real-time adjustments and increase workplace safety.
- One to two months after return: Most organizations have undergone some disruption and will need to rethink critical aspects of their people strategy for post-COVID success. This includes employee experiences, value propositions and physical work environments. By engaging employees through town halls, team discussions and virtual focus groups about how the pandemic has affected them and what they think the new normal will look like, leaders can start building a more resilient and future-focused organization.
Of course, the return-to-work process will inevitably be riddled with confusion, inefficiencies and, yes, legal risks.
Identifying issues before they explode into productivity-killing crises will help make a tough challenge a little easier.
And listening will help make employees into partners in finding return-to-work solutions, instead of suspicious and scared adversaries.
Bringing a workforce back to the office is no small task and employers need to take advantage of every resource available to them – including the collective wisdom of their workforce.