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How to ensure your employees transition back to the workplace safely and smoothly

Team AckoNov 22, 2021

The physical, mental, and emotional toll of the pandemic has been devastating. Fortunately, things are brightening up. The COVID-19 cases are reducing, and vaccination numbers are rising. Finally, it seems like there’s some sort of normalcy, or new normalcy, at the end of the tunnel!

Not surprisingly, employers might be keen on having their employees back to the office; for certain professions demand it. Also, employees who are struggling to work from home due to the nature of the job or lack of space/infrastructure may be keen on returning. At the same time, others who have found safety, security, and convenience in the work-from-home setting might be hesitant to return.

In all this uncertainty, one thing is certain — return to the workplace must be safe and smooth.

In this article, we discuss:

  • employees’ concerns on returning to the workplace

  • what employers can do to address their worries

Let’s get started!

How to Ensure Employees Transition Back to The Workplace

Employee concerns regarding returning to the workplace

Listed below are primary concerns that employees might have about working from the office.

1. Looming worries of COVID-19

The pandemic is not entirely over. With the prevalent cases and chances of new virus variants, employees might be concerned that going back to the office might increase their risk of exposure and subsequent infection.

2. Exposing family members

If offices open, employees will have to be cautious not just for themselves but also for the people they live with as well. Through themselves, they potentially will be exposing their family members to the virus. The anxiety surrounding such exposure can be higher when the dependents are the elderly and children.

3. Public transportation risks

While employers can reassure their employees that all the necessary precautions are being taken to ensure safety at the workplace, it isn’t possible to mitigate all risks while they travel to and from the office. It is likely that several employees will be commuting to the office via public transportation, which increases their chances of virus exposure.

4. Back to the commute

In the pre-pandemic city life, commuting to work and back home was a demanding task, especially during peak hours. Working from home has ended this ordeal, and commuting to work in this scenario possibly means going from one room to another! 

Return to the workplace implies factoring in the commute and its drawbacks all over again. No wonder employees might be hesitant to let go of this comfort.

5. Missing the flexibility

While working from home, employees most likely abide by a schedule that maximizes their output while maintaining a work-life balance. Naturally, some employees might not be keen on losing this flexibility by going back to the workplace.

6. Reversing reverse migration

When the pandemic hit and the lockdowns shut down offices, many people moved back to their hometowns. Due to this reverse migration, they have been able to do away with significant expenses like rents and commutes. 

When offices resume, they would have to leave the comfort of their hometowns and move back to the city. And this can be a huge challenge from an economic and a social standpoint.

7. Higher living expenses

Remote working has resulted in cutting down on several expenses for the salaried employees. Spending on the daily commute, international vacations, rent, eating out, creche, clothing, etc., have dropped dramatically due to social distancing measures, strict rules and regulations, and reverse migration. Such spending is likely to be resumed when work from office resumes.

8. Less me-time

With more time on their hands, people took to cultivating hobbies they wouldn’t have been able to in regular work mode. Some of them finally found the time to focus on their health, with fitness regimes being adhered to diligently. Returning to the office is likely to disorient this well orchestrated work-life balance.

How employers can overcome these concerns

Here are some initiatives that employers can take up to encourage their employees to resume working from the office.

1. Ensure basic hygiene

Employers should ensure hygiene and sanitisation of the workplace by following these steps:

  • Uncompromisingly follow the COVID-19 protocols and set practices to instill a sense of safety among the employees.

  • Conduct temperature checks of all personnel, have mask mandates in common areas, and perform regular sanitisation.

  • If possible, conduct COVID-19 tests at frequent intervals to check for potential exposure.

  • If space permits, reorganize the office space to enforce social distancing among the employees.

  • Launch an awareness campaign for vaccination. If possible, conduct a vaccination drive for the office personnel who are yet to be vaccinated.

  • Have a set protocol for when someone tests COVID-19 positive.

2. Listen to the employees

Some employees might have reservations about returning to the workplace. The key to convincing them to come back without having to enforce their return is to understand their reservations and work towards resolving them amicably.

  • The management can set up a virtual meeting to explain why they believe the employees should come back to the office.

  • The management can open the floor for discussion on the team’s apprehensions and arrive at steps that would convince them to come back.

  • Alternatively, the HR department can share a survey email, asking the employees to share their reservations along with suggestions anonymously.

These practices should sufficiently arm the management to chalk out a detailed plan that addresses the gravest concerns. While every grievance may not be addressed, some surely can be. For example:

  • If the cost to commute is a concern, employers can offer a travel allowance.

  • If the employees are hesitant to travel by public transport, they can provide an exclusive bus service.

  • Also, a hybrid model where employees report to the office twice a week can be helpful.

3. Open the office in phases

If the employees are hesitant to re-join the office immediately, employers can take it slow. They can open the office in phases.

  • Start with teams whose work is compromised while working from home; for example, the IT department. Offices have better computer systems in place than residences; many employees work on sub-optimal systems at home. 

  • Alternatively, the employers should open the office for the top management and gradually work their way down the hierarchy. Knowing their team leaders and colleagues attend work regularly can be assuring. It can prepare the employees mentally for their return.

  • The employees also observe the care taken to ensure their safety, thus gradually getting more confident about returning to the workplace.

4. Reacclimatise and reacquaint

Employers need to re-acclimate their employees to their workstations and office space, and get them reacquainted with their colleagues.

  • Familiarise them with the new office norms and new arrangements.

  • A fair number of their colleagues may have changed (due to resignations and new recruits) since the lockdown. Introduce a buddy system, where an old employee helps a new one to get acclimated to the new situation.

  • Ameliorate employee engagement programs by encouraging safe and social activities. Coffee breaks, happy hours, work lunches and celebrations might help some employees feel connected to the office and their colleagues.

5. Offer fringe benefits

Companies can offer the following benefits to help the employees transition smoothly to the workplace.

  • Travel allowance to compensate for their commute.

  • Creche facilities to help parents, especially in nuclear families, who do not have alternative arrangements for child care.

  • Ensure employee-centric health insurance like ACKO’ Group Medical Cover (ACKO Health) that can be customised for each employee.

Welcoming a new normal

As offices reopen, it is crucial for the employers to have compassion, kindness, and patience while welcoming their employees to the workplace.

It is imperative to be proactive regarding changes in the situation. If the COVID-19 cases increase or there is any new development regarding government rules, it is prudent to act in the team’s best interest.

Working together to create a feasible solution in the pandemic-stricken world will benefit both the employees and the employers. Executing the above-mentioned initiatives and processes will help ease the transition for both employers and employees, enabling the stakeholders to embrace the new normal.

Disclaimer

This content piece is meant for informational purposes. It has been written from the data available in the public domain, opinions, and industry experience. No part of the article should be considered as legal advice. Please consult appropriate professionals before acting or not acting based on the content shared.

Resources

https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidmorel/2021/05/12/what-will-it-take-to-get-people-back-to-the-office/?sh=61c4a9673e62

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/readersblog/creative-thoughts/impact-of-covid-19-on-the-usage-of-public-transport-21917/

https://digest.myhq.in/work-from-home-vs-work-from-office-which-is-better/

https://www.businesstoday.in/latest/corporate/story/future-of-remote-work-some-employees-may-change-job-than-go-back-to-office-297850-2021-06-07

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-06-01/return-to-office-employees-are-quitting-instead-of-giving-up-work-from-home

https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/bangalore/bengaluru-work-from-home-rent-many-leave-city-6789474/

https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/pandemic-induced-lockdowns-boost-household-savings-to-20-yr-high-report-121012101098_1.html

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/jaipur/how-hobbies-helped-them-to-stay-positive-during-lockdown/articleshow/83556324.cms

https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbeshumanresourcescouncil/2021/07/07/how-to-bring-employees-back-to-work-after-the-pandemic/?sh=6d61961645a9

https://hbr.org/2021/01/what-to-do-if-your-team-doesnt-want-to-go-back-to-the-office

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/05/business/pandemic-work-from-home-coronavirus.html

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