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The countdown to the 21st June is on! It’s hard to imagine life without masks, social distancing and a pile of books propping up your laptop to avoid an unflattering camera angle when dialling into your 32nd video call of the day. But hold tight, we’re almost there!

 Over the last few weeks I’ve started to visit clients onsite, which has been incredibly exciting but pretty anxiety-inducing too. It got me thinking: when is the right time to invite people back to the office? Should you do it at all?

 There’s no simple answer here and your approach will be dependent on many things: your culture, your people and whether people need to be physically present or not. But there are a number of things to consider before deciding and communicating your return to work approach. 

Do people actually need to come back to the office?

Covid-19 has been pretty miserable, but as an optimist I have seen two positives come from the pandemic:

 1.     Not to take friends and family for granted. It sounds a little cliche, but not seeing them has made me appreciate them even more.

 2.     We’ve proven that we can be just as effective working from home. I can rock up in my pajamas and enjoy a super productive day at home, a walk round the park and get through three loads of washing all before signing off at 6pm. Win!

 The second point is important. People’s expectations of their employers have changed; we’ve proven that where we work has posed little impact on our performance and it’s not unreasonable for us to now expect some flexibility on where and how we work, post pandemic.

The benefits of embracing a remote set-up

Having a remote-first set up enables you to attract the best talent, regardless of socioeconomic, geographic, or cultural backgrounds – which can be challenging to accomplish when recruiting is restricted to a specific location that not everyone wants, or can afford to live near (we all know how painful the cost of living in Brighton is…).

A more holistic approach to flexible working will also help you attract those that either don’t want to or can’t work a traditional 9-5. Aside from attracting the best talent and demonstrating your commitment to nurturing an inclusive and diverse culture, benefits of a remote set up include cost saving, reducing your team’s environmental impact and the removing the daily commute!

However, for some, the thought of indefinite remote work will be a deal breaker. There are still many people who want to come into the office. The reality is – and I assume if you’re reading this blog – you want to maintain some physical presence in Brighton for your team to come together and collaborate in person. So how should you go about it? 

1.    Ask your team for their advice

No one size fits all and your team will be the best insight into how you should approach your return to the office. An anonymous survey or one-to-one conversations will help you understand:

●      Preferences around how they’d like to see you approach a return to the office

●      Their personal anxieties about coming back to the office

●      Views on flexible working (this is a great opportunity to reshape what you offer your people)

●      Things you might not have thought about!

2.    Respect and support people’s anxieties

Whilst some of your team may be chomping at the bit to come back, others will be dreading the day. Whether it’s personal experience with the impact of coronavirus, an underlying health condition or any other reason, listen to their fears. Ask curious and open questions. Provide a safe space for them to share their anxieties and seek to understand how you can best support their personal situation. It can be helpful to provide reassurance but make this tangible; rather than “we’ve made sure it’s safe” try “we’ve done X, Y and Z to make returning to work as safe as possible”.

3.    Offer clear and transparent communication

We can all see through a spiel about the benefits of coming back to the office and there’s nothing worse than trying to be convinced to do something. Be candid and transparent with your reasons and welcome feedback, recommendations and advice from your team. The more people feel part of the decision making process, the more likely they are to feel comfortable and advocate returning.

4.    Don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’

None of us have ever navigated anything like Covid-19 before and we’re all doing our best to get things right. It’s totally OK to not have all the answers; deep down, none of us are expecting you to.  All we ask is for regular, transparent communication and for you to consider our worries and feedback.

5.    Be considerate

JP Morgan’s CEO has said that working remotely “does not work for young people… It doesn’t work for those who want to hustle”.

I’m not quite sure what he was referring to when he says “want to hustle” but he came across as quite out of touch with those who have worked so hard over the last 15 months, whilst juggling childcare (amongst other) challenges. The last year and a half has been unpresented and as a country our mental health has deteriorated. We’ve shown resilience and we’ve made it, and that’s got to  be congratulated.

Whatever your return to work plans look like, the end is in sight. Embrace your team’s feedback and work together in ensuring a happy, safe and successful return to the office.

To find out how Alison Jones Coaching can help support your business, by equipping Founders and their leadership teams with the tools and confidence needed to create a culture of high-performance – visit the website here.