The return to the office – what you as a HR professional needs to think about

With the roll out of the vaccine gathering pace, attention is now turning to the return to the office and how that will impact your business going forward.

The pandemic has accelerated all into a digital led world, working from home (WFH) is the new acronym we are all familiar with. The challenge now is how to transition back into the office (if at all).

Here are a few issues you will need to manage from a HR perspective:

The vaccine:

As an employer, you cannot force an employee to take the vaccine, that is their choice. However, you can have a policy where an employee who does not have the vaccination, can be precluded from returning to the office. You will need to develop and communicate a clear policy on this.

The office:

The return to the physical office space has any advantages:

  • It is very social.
  • You can learn more by being with your colleagues, particularly important for your graduate intake.
  • Face to face meetings are still the best, we have many clients who insist on doing final interviews in person for this reason.
  • The watercooler moments help with innovation, a strong informal way of floating ideas.
  • You are more likely to interact with colleagues from different areas as opposed to the more siloed remote working approach.

Hybrid working model?

This is the single biggest challenge you will have as a HR professional, what is the best working model for your business?

Some things to think about:

  • Do you let your employees choose where they physically do their work, whenever they want?
  • Do you insist on them being in the office for a certain amount of time each week?
  • Do you insist they come into the office at a prescribed time each week?

For example, if four of your management team need to meet and three are in the office and one is remote, that meeting has to be done via a screen.

  • Will that lead to resentment towards the team member working remotely?
  • Are you better off prescribing a set day(s) for all the team to be in the office together?
  • Do you accept that this is the way of the world now and let your employees choose when and/or if they come into the office?

This is a potential minefield. Engagement with your team is key, what solution best fits your businesses’ purpose?

Diversity:

Numerous articles we have read, suggest that men are more likely to want to return to the office than women.

The factors considered include:

  • Being the prime carer for their children (McKinsey states that women are three times more likely to be looking after their children than men).
  • Being the prime carer for the elderly.
  • Likely to be doing more of the home schooling.

There is a feeling that companies need to be cognisant of the demands on their female colleagues and that the return to the workplace is made as easy as possible for them. There is a good argument for promoting more flexible working arrangements, so you can accommodate your female colleagues, making it easier for them to return to the office also.

Coaching:

One of the real upsides in returning to the office is around the quality of coaching you can deliver. If you are a business that has a graduate programme for example, having the graduates in the office is a must, for them and for your business.

A lot of learning is from osmosis, being in a work environment helps you pick things up easier. Coaching your people in the office can also help you as a HR professional embed your company’s culture and values. It also helps develop those hugely important personal relationships that will help you with your staff retention.

Commute:

For your colleagues with a long commute, WFH can be really beneficial. Our clients are telling us that they are actually getting more engagement and productivity from these employees as their commute time is now their work time.

Questions you need to consider:

  • Does the fact WFH is available to your colleagues with long commutes help in your retention of them?
  • Do they do a role whereby there are not actually required to be in the office? A lot of back- office work for example can be done very effectively from home.
  • Are they part of a team where their roles are best served by being in the office? If so, how can you accommodate colleagues with long commutes?

Trust:

Many of our clients had to adapt overnight to the WFH protocols. One of the biggest wins they got is they now feel they can trust their employees in the WFH environment. With the advances in technology, WFH works really well.

This trust is now going to be tested further with the hybrid model approach. However, trust has been earned over the last year, so you as a HR professional can take a more nuanced approach to this than pre-COVID.

Purpose:

Everything has changed and everything is the same. Engage with your colleagues, assess your business and look at what works best for you.

Embrace technology, embrace and value human interaction, embrace purpose. Lead the way by setting your company purpose, get buy-in from your colleagues and let that purpose dictate your working model.

Start those conversations…