There’s little doubt remote operations have been a useful tool over the past year or so. The COVID-19 pandemic meant drastic changes were needed to make sure staff and customers alike were kept safe from exposure. Gathering everyone in a single space wasn’t practical. As such, without the option for staff to work from home, your business may have not been able to keep afloat.
Though the infection rate in the Philippines remains high, the rollout of the vaccine is giving hope of a return to some semblance of normal soon. Yours may be among the many companies making advance plans to bring your workers back into the office space on a full-time basis. Unfortunately, this is seeing some pushback from employees, who may find the flexibility of remote work preferable. They may even be seeking to include the option to work from home as part of post-COVID changes to their benefits.
Part of the challenge is being able to express the benefits of the office to your workforce. So, we’re going to look at a few areas for you to focus on.
Access to Support
Coming back into the office means everybody is in the same space, ready to pull together and collaborate. As such, one of the most important benefits of in-person operations you can discuss is access to mutual support. While it’s likely you’ll already have some resources for remote workers in place, these might not always be as immediate or impactful as those available in the office.
In your human resources (HR) communications with workers when broaching the return to the office, be sure to highlight what these in-office modes of support are. This could include easier conversations with colleagues and management when there are aspects of concern. Perhaps discuss a wider range of technology and tools that can help them more efficiently perform their tasks. Indeed, even something as simple as open opportunities to engage with visiting training consultants and face-to-face networking with clients can be a plus. Don’t forget to point out what benefits you’re planning for the return to the office, too. Will there be on-site exercise facilities or even healthy snacks in the break room?
It’s also important to discuss how you’re preparing to support them during the transition period. If your business is implementing a hybrid model during this time, it’s vital to maintain best practices for managing remote teams. Set up agile communications channels that can temporarily bridge the gap between remote and in-person collaborations. Make certain your company policies are up-to-date, taking into account the different hours and cybersecurity threats remote and office-based employees face. This approach shows you’re not just focused on tempting them back to the office but dedicated to making their return as smooth and supported as possible.
A Positive Environment
There are aspects of the workplace that businesses really haven’t been able to replicate in remote operations. Primary among these is a positive, collaborative environment in which teams support one another to thrive. While remote communications tools can help to keep colleagues connected in some fashion, these methods aren’t usually enough to make a compatible experience. This certainly isn’t helped by the fact that the Philippines has some of the slowest internet speeds in the world, making video calls and collaborative tools difficult to use.
The office space, on the other hand, has a unique sense of togetherness. Yes, there can sometimes be pressure, but there’s also a spirit of camaraderie and cooperation. Sharing space gives everyone opportunities to energize one another, and spur creativity. Help your employees to also understand that their daily interactions with colleagues from diverse backgrounds do more than simply make them part of a stronger team. They also help your employees develop soft skills that will be beneficial throughout their careers and personal lives — empathy, intercultural communication, emotional intelligence.
From an environmental perspective, you should also discuss how coming back to the office gives separation between work and home life. Few people have the space for a dedicated office at home, and this can lead to professional and personal aspects bleeding into one another in ways that can create tension.
Shifting to in-person operations can alleviate this, not to mention create a greater sense of focus. Without the structure of the office environment, some employees may find they’re easily distracted by social media or their cell phones. This isn’t an unusual issue, as cell phone addiction has become a prevalent part of our society. If some workers experience challenges with anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem, they may be particularly at risk of this behaviour. Cell phone addiction isn’t just problematic for workers’ productivity, but it can have harmful knock-on effects including becoming more withdrawn from the physical world. It can be wise to discuss how the office is more conducive to maintaining focus and providing structures that promote healthier behaviour.
It’s important to understand a return to the office is not always going to be popular. Indeed, while there are benefits to in-person operations, there are certainly just as many things employees value about working from home. HR professionals and managers shouldn’t respond to pushback with force. After all, this can drive valuable staff members away from your business. Rather, take an approach aimed at achieving a balance of benefits for everyone.
Talk about what your workers’ needs are and how this impacts the business. One of the common elements you’re likely to find is remote working provides a certain amount of flexibility. Take time to discuss practices that both meet the needs of the company but also make the work environment more flexible for everyone. This could include a hybrid working arrangement, which sees an equal split between remote and in-office activities. Even the introduction of flextime for a trial period can bring workers into the office but give them the freedom to structure their day as is best for them. Make it clear you are dedicated to establishing a culture of mutual trust. But also highlight how flexible methods must be backed up by clear, productivity-focused policies. It’s challenging, but try to approach this as a collaboration, rather than dictating terms — the response will tend to be more positive.
After a long period of remote operations, it can feel appropriate to bring your workers back into the office environment. Your success here can revolve around effective communication of benefits — like the support they can expect and access to an environment they don’t get at home. However, it is equally important you work together with your staff to find solutions that benefit everyone.