Working from home was extremely difficult for many people, but the transition back to the office may be just as challenging. Some reports have even warned that companies trying to force staffers back to the office could result in a job exodus.
To minimize disruptions and loss, Ron Hutcheson, SVP at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, said businesses should adhere to principles of transparency and two-way conversations.
“Employers should offer clear and specific guidance on all aspects of the back-to-office plan, and be honest about any unknowns,” he said. “They need to listen to employees on an ongoing basis, adjust plans based on feedback as appropriate and explain why unworkable requests are not feasible.”
Companies that rush employees back to the office could face a staff backlash and other consequences. After Apple distributed its policy requiring employees to return to the office three times a week starting in September, employees protested and dozens of workers wrote a letter to CEO Tim Cook and executive leadership saying they have felt ignored over the past year, according to The Verge.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment.
Other tech-sector companies have taken different approaches. Google and Microsoft have adopted hybrid working policies. Twitter and Facebook have more unequivocally stated if employees choose, they can permanently continue remote-working post-pandemic.
Companies also need to share big-picture plans down to the nitty-gritty details, stated Gaik Ping Ooi, director of employee communications and engagement at Golin Chicago. Employers need to “clearly articulate why and how new work models will improve the employee experience,” she added, emphasizing the importance of listening to avoid alienating or losing talent.
A Gallup survey released in May found that more than seven in 10 white collar workers were still working from home at that time, despite a declining number of COVID-19 cases. With WFH the new normal for millions of Americans, both Ooi and Hutcheson recommended that businesses be flexible in accommodating individual needs.
Cat Colella-Graham, president of Cheer Partners, a Lippe Taylor firm that focuses on employee communications, has been busy with returns to the office. She noted that safety, adaptability and humanity should be foundational considerations.