The return to the office: considerations for a new normal

The return to the workplace conversation started in 2020 and continues today with much of the focus remaining on management, safety, and logistics. Employers are asking questions like:

  • How are we going to accommodate the needs of our employees?
  • What legislative requirements do we need to consider?
  • How are daily operations going to be impacted by new processes?

The initial wave of the pandemic required quick and reactionary measures. Changes to work processes and service delivery were made out of necessity, with the assumption that these changes would be temporary. After more than a year of temporary measures, and with vaccination rates steadily increasing across Canada and the globe, companies are planning their return to the workplace, and in some cases, building a new normal.

There are a number of factors to consider when planning your organization’s return to the workplace:

Utilize opportunities

The stressors of the pandemic may have highlighted practices within your organization that no longer serve the organization or your customers well.  After reviewing the impact of the last 18 months, there’s opportunity to be strategic and intentional about how to engage with employees, and the create the desired workplace culture. This may be a good opportunity to identify and update inefficient processes and focus on developing a go forward strategy. A successful transition relies on the ability of leaders to be deliberate in their decision making, communicate clearly, and maintain a flexible mindset.

Be intentional

As you review the state of your organization, establish how your values may have shifted. Determine what’s important to your organization and set expectations accordingly. Take some time to assess how your business has been impacted:

  • What disruptors occurred within the last 18 months that benefited your business?
  • What shortcomings became obvious within your organizational culture or work processes?
  • Your business likely made accommodations over the last 18 months that might never have been considered in pre-pandemic times. How have these accommodations positively impacted your organization, and which practices offer continued benefits?

In addressing these and similar questions, many organizations are recognizing that there’s been a shift in their values or long-term goals.

Communicate clearly

The importance of clear communication as we plan to return to the workplace can’t be overstated. As many organizations widely adopted the use of virtual platforms,  clear communication and expectations were more important than ever and that will continue as employees return to the workplace. Communication needs to be clear, open, and as frequent as possible to keep the team connected and to provide ongoing updates.

How you communicate gives employees an idea of what they can expect and lays the foundation for the culture you’re creating.. What’s become clear over the past 18 months is it’s important for leaders to focus on employee and workplace culture; creating space for a meaningful connection within organizational teams at work. After a long period of minimal interaction, many employees are looking for a more human experience at work. Many employees are re-engaging in social connections for the first time and employers will have to be sensitive to that.

 Be flexible

As conversations around returning to the workplace continue, cultivating a mindset of open curiosity and innovation is crucial for leaders. Change management has been a popular topic for years, and the pandemic has given us a new understanding of what that reality might look like. How we manage change is reflective of our ability to grow and adapt. The pandemic has increased our awareness of how quickly circumstances can change and how important it is to be able to pivot.

We know that returning to the workplace won’t be a clear cut process. Variables and situations will change, new information will come available, and the ability to adjust is what will set organizations and leaders apart.

Written by Johanna Hildebrand, CPHR of People First HR, a People Corporation company.