It’s been shown through the pandemic that employees and companies can function in various working contexts, from location to hours, work attire to means of communication.
The challenge going forward, as some workers choose to return to the pre-pandemic ways of things and others find they’d rather not, is how to ensure that resentments don’t build between your in-office and remote or hybrid workers, that policies are established to accommodate all workers, and that no perceptions are created that imply anything other than equal value given to all employees, regardless of where they work.
Achieving this is not impossible, but it does require thoughtful planning and execution. Here are five steps you can take to make this transition go smoothly for everyone.
- Include employees in creating guidelines that consider all employees. Whether you are working from home or from a company office should not un-level the playing field for employees. When crafting policies such as hours during the day in which all employees are expected to be reachable regardless of location, consider factors such as whether this time gives everyone equal access to management, and whether meetings are taking place at times that are convenient for all attendees. Poll employees about their preferences.
- Help employees maintain the rhythms that keep them energized during the workday. Throughout the pandemic, people who found themselves working from home developed certain rhythms and preferences. Many people reported taking time mid-day to re-energize with a nap or rest their minds by watching an episode of a television show. People learned to listen to their bodies and minds to discover when they are the most creative, when they need to recharge. It may work against organizations to dismiss these patterns and impose long, arduous work schedules that don’t allow for mental health breaks.
- Relax your dress code. What people wear impacts how engaged and comfortable they feel while performing tasks. While many office jobs imposed professional attire to maintain a formal, work-mode mentality, many people have discovered they operate on the same or even higher levels of focus and productivity in more casual attire. While it may be unreasonable to arrive to work in pajamas, allowing for employees to follow their own unique comfort level when dressing for work, such as permitting jeans, may make a return to the office more appealing.
- Deliberately plan for more meaningful interaction among all employees. Particularly for younger professionals early in their careers, there can be a sense that not being present in the office is a career killer. Opportunities to speak up in meetings, to make small talk in the hallway, to be physically seen should not lead to direct advantages in career growth for in-office staff. Be mindful of exhibiting any “presence prejudice,” by which employees who work in the office are valued more highly (or their work is perceived to be valued more highly) than their remote-work colleagues.
- Provide the same perks for all employees. Many companies offered financial support to their workers who were suddenly faced with creating a fully functioning office space in their homes during the pandemic. From technical accessories to ergonomic desk chairs, what is provided for in-office staff should be equally provided to your employees at home. If happy hour drinks or in-office gym equipment are treated as perks in employee contracts, find a way to balance these with your farther afield workers. This is all part of creating a culture of having one equally valued team, rather than two camps of workers depending on their preferred work location.
As with most challenges in the workplace, communication, respect for points of view, and transparency are the best tools for ensuring that the return to work, post-pandemic, does not lead to a work-culture war in your organization, but to a deeper level of understanding and respect for employees and leadership.