How should businesses plan for a successful return to work?

June 26, 2021 5:53 PM

However, to ensure business continuity, leaders must figure out an effective return to work strategy, without which they can’t run profitably, especially during dark hours like these.

Ensuring a safer office environment Although vaccination drives are rapidly going on, it is certain that still, a few employees will join the office unvaccinated.Ensuring a safer office environment Although vaccination drives are rapidly going on, it is certain that still, a few employees will join the office unvaccinated. (Representative image)

By Kuldeep Malhotra

COVID-19 has caused worldwide disruptions and pushed us to acclimatize to new work cultures like Work from Home (WFH). Over the last 16 months, companies have moved back and forth between working online and offline as and when lockdowns were announced and ended, respectively. Now that people are getting vaccinated at a rapid pace and scale, with cities being gradually unlocked, organizations across India are reopening their doors to restart physical operations. However, to ensure business continuity, leaders must figure out an effective return to work strategy, without which they can’t run profitably, especially during dark hours like these.

To be honest, there is no “successful mantra” to returning to offices as it is going to be a big change for all of us, and it’s certainly not going to be an easy shift. Just like it was challenging for most people to suddenly switch to remote working 1.5 years back, it will be challenging now to get back to offline work mode. The only solution is to follow an agile approach, be adaptive to the new changes, and try adjusting to it as quickly as possible so that no work is affected and you are back to performing well.

According to research by Gartner, 94% of midsize companies will move to a mixed approach while reopening their offices, that is, an amalgamation of in-office, remote and hybrid employees. After learning from the pandemic and achieving better results from WFH, there are high chances that most organizations irrespective of their size will follow this approach. But even to make this a reality, leaders must take care of a few things like:

Ensuring a safer office environment Although vaccination drives are rapidly going on, it is certain that still, a few employees will join the office unvaccinated. Apart from this, social distancing and mandatory wearing of masks, and frequent sanitization will exist anyway. Hence, ensuring safety will remain a necessity for employers who are planning to restart working from offices.

This will be directly associated with employee productivity as safe and healthy employees will perform much better and take lesser leaves than infected or sick ones. For implementing this successfully, a strong communication plan will play a pivotal role. Employees must be transparent about the accurate dates of office reopening, the safety measures being taken across the offices, and thus accordingly be encouraged to re-join with a positive mindset.

Need for reboarding At a time when employees return to the office, companies must come up with a reboarding policy. Doing so will help them introduce employees to new work policies and other reshapes that might have taken place during the pandemic. Considering the unforeseen disruptions that we have lived through, reboarding is going to be an important step in the right direction, acting as a key touchpoint throughout the employee journey.

On the other hand, as an employer, if you inform your employees to join the office haphazardly, most of them would return with a lack of enthusiasm and it will also affect the overall employee experience at work. A survey proves this. It says 69% of employees would feel comfortable returning to the office, however, only 61% would like to do so provided workplaces are safe to operate.

The role of HR tech

Technology has continued to be an essential element for businesses, even before COVID-19. The pandemic has made it a necessity now, with a large number of companies investing in new tools and adopting them to ensure sustainability and continuity during these times. Employees have spent 1.5 years working remotely without face-to-face interactions and that has changed everything.

Now when they begin to return, HR executives and managers should be equipped with the right technologies to read between the lines, perform sentiment analysis, and study how employee attitudes have evolved over this period. Knowing these factors in detail will help HR teams to set up both physical and digital tools for employees to work efficiently and fix productivity problems when there is a need. With real-time data on the back of employee feedback, leaders can ensure a successful reboarding experience to employees and thus help them accept and adopt this change more seamlessly.

Summing up

We have already talked about how the shift from working online to offline will not be easy at first. However, to ensure that it is not as challenging as it is assumed to be, companies must take the aforementioned steps and keep employees informed, connected, engaged, and most importantly, make sure that they will be working in a safe environment with robust safety measures in place when they return to the office.

(The author is deputy managing director, sales division at Konica Minolta. Views expressed are personal and not necessarily that of Financial Express Online)

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