Entrepreneurs

Employers, Don’t Bring the Wrong Things Back to Work

With over half of U.S. adults at least partially vaccinated, many business leaders are eager to fill their empty offices. Sure, some big names have committed to staying fully remote, but across the country, bringing employees in person is on the horizon– if not already underway. Seventy-five percent of executives expect at least half of office employees to return by July, according to a recent PwC survey.

In the rush to fill desks, with human resources (HR) vendors and consultants clambering onto the latest sound bites and pushing the ways their solution can solve hybrid work woes, too many companies are missing the forest for the trees. It’s not simply about returning to work, it’s bringing humanity back to our work.

Here are four ways to make sure your company is accounting for new post-pandemic realities and is doing all it can to provide a happy, productive workplace:

Emphasize engagement.

As humans, we remember not what people said, but how it made us feel. The specifics of your hybrid work policy– who lives where, who comes in when– are far less important than how engaged your employees are.

Reopening the office doors won’t automatically bring back a sense of engagement and belonging or eliminate silos, especially after a year of remote work. Worse, you risk reinforcing existing biases or creating division among employees.

A recent Littler survey of in-house lawyers, C-suite executives, and HR professionals shows a startling disconnect between employer and employee views. Just 4 percent of employers believe that most of their remote workers want to return full time, yet 28 percent of them plan to have most employees do exactly that.

It goes on to show that 73 percent of those same respondents are concerned about management issues with employees split between in-person and remote work. But stricter policies won’t address the rising tension or solve the problem.

Thus, it is critical to get feedback, leverage surveys, and listen to what your employees want. Then, incorporate that feedback into your plan. When employees are driving and feel like they’re a part of the company policy, it’s more likely to succeed than one created in the boardroom from thin air.

Look forward, not back.

We all want to drive results, but we also just endured a global pandemic that threw a wrench into every aspect of our lives. And, some parts of the world are still enduring the worst– some parts where there may still be satellite offices or remote employees.

Now more than ever, performance management needs to be forward-looking and empathetic, rather than retroactive criticism. Results are still, and always will be, important. But, assuming employees have kept up through the worst of the pandemic, performance reviews should be conversational, focused on future development and learning opportunities instead of overly formal reviews.

Mean what you say.

The pandemic has highlighted just how difficult it is for people to handle long-term uncertainty, especially when their daily lives are affected. Clear communication is critical and silence feeds uncertainty and rumors, especially as restrictions lift and employees anxiously look for normalcy to return to their lives. The worst thing you can do is surprise them, or walk back a policy once it’s been announced.

Communicate changes clearly, leaving plenty of time for employees to process, ask questions, and make decisions and arrangements in their personal lives. The nature of work in the next year will be experimental for everyone. Long-term planning is undoubtedly important, but avoid sweeping changes to employment policies for the next year, or five years, when the next six months are uncertain. Better to be iterative in the development and implementation of your hybrid work plan, than to make a grand announcement and renege on your promises a few months later.

In the end, the solution that works best for most companies won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. While some high-profile companies are confidently declaring, “everyone will be remote” or, “everyone will go into the office,” the reality is often more nuanced, and varies between organizations and geographies, even within the same company. What won’t vary is that an engaged workforce leads to positive business outcomes and drives results. Focus on bringing humanity back to your workplace and the rest will follow.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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