With workplace flexibility becoming the expectation for employees, return-to-office announcements can be sensitive and should not be treated lightly. According to our 2021 Global Talent Trends Report, 64% of employees globally say it’s important for company culture to encourage flexibility. Whether employees are asked or given the option to voluntarily return to the office, some alarm bells in their heads will be set off – Is the office safe? Which jobs are critical? Is there room to manage personal commitments?
By engaging employees in a dialogue on return-to-office plans, you can help your organization in three critical ways. First, you will gain valuable ideas and insights. Asking about their concerns, challenges and apprehensions can help build a return strategy tailored to their needs. Second, listening builds trust, support and psychological safety. When employees know their voice matters, they are more likely to be engaged and committed. Lastly, collective conversations can be empowering, especially after months of remote work and social isolation. Leaders, managers and employees can learn from each other and build a stronger sense of community.
To design an effective listening strategy to help employees return to the office, we recommend gathering feedback at three critical points.
- Pre-Return Concerns – 4 to 6 weeks before returning to the office
While employees are still working remotely, kick-start a conversation to understand their perspectives and adjust return-to-office plans based on their feedback. This can be done through manager-led discussions, virtual town halls or online focus groups. Sharing preliminary plans and framing these discussions as collaborative opportunities to design a safe return is critical.
- Initial Return Experiences – first month back in the office
Once employees have returned to the office, gather regular feedback to ensure that your employees are having a safe experience across all aspects of their workday. We recommend conducting a series of brief pulse surveys, followed by manager-led discussions. By creating feedback loops, organizations can make real-time adjustments to unanticipated challenges that emerge when people return to work.
- Defining a New Normal – 1 to 2 months after returning to the office
When employees settle down in the office, it is important to continue future-focused conversations with them to brainstorm new ways to work, collaborate, innovate and perform. Companies can identify potential risks and areas for improvement through regular town halls or virtual focus groups, to recharge employee experiences and build a more resilient organization.
Bringing employees back to the office is no small task but employers need to recognize that they don’t have many chances to get this right. Employee listening is more critical than ever to help employees return to the office safely while instilling a collective sense of motivation and purpose in the workforce.
Contact us today to find out how we can help you design an effective employee listening strategy to engage in a dialogue with your workforce about returning to the office.