While some employers have embraced remote working, others will breathe a sigh of relief when employees gradually return to their workplaces.
The return to work presents challenges for organisations as employees put the last 16 months behind them and become reacquainted with colleagues, systems and workplace routines.
Here are five tips on how organisations can ensure a smoother transition for workforces over the next few months.
Reduce the burden on HR and IT by phasing the return
Organisations should adopt a phased approach to returning to the workplace and devise a step-by-step programme to make the return as friction-free as possible for each individual. Apart from anything else, it avoids overwhelming HR and support services such as IT.
Looking beyond the short-term, organisations should use workforce planning analytics to ensure they have an accurate picture of how resources match requirements.
They can see where they need to improve employee performance or where different functions need extra support or new recruits. The ability to build scenarios will also ensure employers are well-prepared for any future disruptions.
Large numbers of employees will have forgotten the routines of work after such a long time away, especially if they have revised roles, are in new teams, have new colleagues or are redeployed to different offices or sites.
Effective communication across the organisation is essential to re-onboarding.
Employees should have access to all relevant information and training materials they need, preferably via an online platform they can access whenever it suits them.
Communication must be two-way so organisations know as soon as possible about changed employee circumstances affecting the ability to work. Finding out on the day an employee returns could cause significant disruption at a fraught time.
Culture and returning to work flexibility
It is important to actively maintain a positive culture.
Communication will be different as leaders try new ways of getting messages to everyone in their team, regardless of location. Building team spirit may require a change of approach if more people than ever work remotely or from home.
The quicker businesses and their people can adapt their culture to these new circumstances, the brighter future they will both have.
Organisations should also prepare for long Covid.
Research is emerging which shows how the very unpredictable symptoms of this condition could continue to affect people.
Active management by HR is required to nurture employees with such a little-understood illness and to optimise their performance. This requires HR or team managers to engage with sufferers regularly and to keep abreast of the latest medical and legal guidance.
HR teams also need to be aware of the potential for friction, with unwitting discrimination a real danger given the disease’s disproportionate effects on some demographics. Employers should show they have taken individual circumstances into account and provided the necessary support.
Employers also need to monitor overall employee wellbeing.
The return to work may, for example, cause or exacerbate anxiety or stress in some employees which may not be immediately apparent. Encouraging them to disclose problems as soon as possible offers a greater likelihood of effective therapeutic intervention or adjustment of tasks. More broadly, HR should ensure wellbeing is seen as a strategic pillar of greater organisational resilience.
The return to workplaces by millions of employees after the traumatic disruption caused by the pandemic does present significant potential pitfalls for organisations. Yet with thorough preparation, effective collaboration and communication facilitated by their HR technology, they should avoid the worst effects and adapt quickly so they can get on with business as normal.
Eamon Rheinisch is general manager at MHR Ireland