By Ruchi Bhalla
It has been famously remarked ‘Adversity does not build character, it reveals it’. These are unprecedented times with huge disruptions to the way we do business and engage our workforce. Working in the ‘new normal’ and the transition back to work are top-of-mind. For any organisation, a Return to Office Strategy (R2O) needs to be around its people, with safety as the top priority.
Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when planning your Return to Office (R20) strategy:
- When a crisis hits, what stands the test of time is culture. Companies must invest in building a culture of inclusion and trust that transcends the four walls of office. A strong cultural ethos will ensure that employees feel engaged even with minimum physical interaction. Culture in conjunction with technology tools should embed mobility and flexibility into the employee experience. Investing in ‘Re-skilling’ and ‘Up-skiling’ Programs that prepare the workforce for a post-pandemic world and provide avenues for engagement with teams and leaders is essential.
- For any return to office strategy to be successful, employee safety is a priority and one should not return to using the office space until local health conditions warrant. Begin by assessing vulnerabilities in the office environment and addressing them – demographic and health assessment of employees and their families; location mapping employee risk based on impact zones; gauging employee willingness and readiness to resume work from office and essentiality of their physical presence to support the business.
- A global health crisis affects all of us in different ways. That’s why leaders need to be flexible, adaptable and empathetic. Understanding that employees have had different experiences during this crisis – some may have pre-conditions that make them vulnerable to the COVID-19 infection, others may have lost loved ones during this time due to circumstances including COVID-19, while still others could be caring for young children or may be caregivers for aged parents, and therefore reluctant to return to office.
- When the time comes and you’re ready to open your offices, plan a phase-wise approach to resuming operations and identify who should return to office and when. At
Pitney Bowes, we had the advantage of understanding how to effectively shift work from the office to home with more than 40% of our eligible global population already working from home or flexibly (between home and office) prior to pandemic.
- Identify the most essential people to bring back to office. Slowly ease in more employees to allow gradual resumption of office working, contingent on business requirements. Social Distancing, safety and medical guidelines will need to be strictly adhered to along with planning for any contingency while in office. Continue learning and adapting as your understanding and events evolve.
- Re-acclimating an onsite workforce after months of remote working will present new challenges. Form workplace readiness plans and processes so that you are prepared to reopen offices safely when the time comes. Having a clear vision and strategy that communicates a shared vision for those returning to office, as well as those who continue to work remotely will ensure an engaged, productive and driven workforce that helps the organisation remain focussed on delivering value to clients.
The author is the Country Head – India Delivery Centers & VP HR (APAC) at Pitney Bowes.