Big Picture

3 Ways to Talk to Employees About the Return to the Office

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As the latest surge of the pandemic wanes, the corporate world is gradually responding with plans for phasing out remote work to return to the office. Learn how to make your hybrid or full return to the office as seamless as possible so that both you and your employees are prepared.

As we approach the COVID-19 pandemic’s two-year mark, it’s important to consider how the near future might play out. One of the biggest changes the pandemic ushered in was the widespread switch to working from home. Now, according to a survey from The Conference Board, 40% of workplaces that allowed remote work are planning for employees to return to the office by March.

But that same survey found that there is no consensus among business leaders about which types of workers would be required to return, whether their return would be voluntary, or whether some kind of hybrid work would be allowed.

At the same time, employees have strong opinions about this issue. The “EY 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey” found that 54% of employees would consider quitting if they no longer had some of the flexibility they’ve grown accustomed to.

The Importance of Planning for the Return to the Office

Any big transition is best managed with careful planning, and returning to the office from remote work is no exception.

Think about the issues that could arise if you don’t prepare your workforce properly. Employees might feel uneasy about health risks, have concerns about returning to an in-person social environment, and struggle to produce high-quality work if expectations aren’t clear.

But all of that can be avoided if you ensure your employees know you’ve thought about these factors. In this time of extreme uncertainty, offering this reassurance can put them at ease and help everyone feel focused on a common mission: returning to the office productively and successfully.

To accomplish this, keep the lines of communication open. Let your employees know about the company’s expectations, but at the same time, be open to hearing their concerns and suggestions. You can take those into account as you craft new policies and head off any challenges that this transition might present.

This type of communication might be particularly important with lower-level employees. The same survey by The Conference Board found that 31% of this group said they were uncomfortable returning to the office, compared to only 18% of HR executives.

This transition represents something new in business history. These are uncharted waters, so many leaders might be unsure about what information they should share with employees and how.

3 Ways to Communicate to Employees During the Return to the Office

Here are three ideas to help make this transition smooth, informed, and effective:

  1. Use clear language.
    Employees will want to know what to expect in terms of safety measures, socialization at work, sanitation, social distancing, and what happens if they’re exposed to the virus. They might also wonder whether the time away from the office has resulted in any changes in expectations for office work culture or procedures, such as issues regarding hybrid work.
    By being clear and upfront about post-pandemic protocols for the office, you can allay the concerns — and even fears — that many employees might have.
  2. Emphasize expectations.
    It’s important to communicate your expectations of employees during this transition, so don’t hesitate to use firm language and repeat your messaging when appropriate.
    In the past, 90% of employees said they sometimes would go to work when feeling sick. You need to strongly state that this is no longer acceptable. Similarly, when it comes to protocols regarding masking or temperature checks, don’t let your messaging weaken. That suggests you’re not serious about upholding employee safety standards and might cause your employees to lose confidence and trust in you.
  3. Be compassionate and interactive.
    Firm expectations are important, but so is a human touch. The past two years have been challenging for everyone, so showing empathy and understanding can help keep morale high.
    Make sure the majority of communication regarding the return to the office takes place through a two-way channel that invites employee feedback. The first step in showing empathy is to really listen to employees’ concerns. It will help you understand their behaviors, shape procedures, and prevent any mishaps upon returning.

Make the Return to the Office a Triumph

By planning ahead, keeping safety and best practices in mind, and listening carefully to your employees’ concerns, you can make the return to the office a success. Don’t put off preparing for it. The more you think through these issues prior to the first of your staff returning, the better the transition is likely to go. Preparing to return to the office shouldn’t be an afterthought.

Finally, stay positive. The past two years of working from home have been a challenge for many, but the upcoming years can be fruitful and profitable ones. It just takes the right commitment, both now and on the road ahead.

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Written by Alexis Russell.

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Alexis Russell
Alexis Russell is the U.S. HR business partner for Jotform. Based in San Francisco, she is the point of contact for all things HR and recruitment at Jotform. Jotform is a full-featured online form builder that makes it easy to create robust forms and collect important data. Trusted by over 10M users worldwide, such as nonprofits, educational institutions, small businesses, and enterprises, Jotform is a gateway to gathering better information to power your business.


Alexis Russell is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn.