Forget business as usual as workers return to the office

- December 9, 2020 3 MIN READ
back at work

Business Australia Chief Customer Experience Officer Richard Spencer has warned businesses should not expect office life to go ‘back to normal’ as staff return following months of working from home.

“In response to COVID-19 lockdowns businesses had to pivot to remote operations almost overnight, now we can’t expect staff to return with that same speed,” says Spencer.

Plan your staff’s return to work

“Very few businesses were able to plan their way into the pandemic, but they can all plan their way out,” Spencer advises.

The CX expert says there will be a period of adjustment as staff transition back to work. He advises a slow and steady approach will work best.

“Naturally there will be a period of transition and those that go slowly will manage this best.

“For some, there is nervous excitement about getting back to the office, for others it will be more of a longer transition. It’s important to be aware of office sentiment and consider how individuals are feeling with the change.

Don’t expect a snap back to old ways

Spencer says pressure to instantly resume normal practice may be met by resistance from staff who have been working autonomously at home. Instead, he advises scrutinising old processes and look for ways to adapt to life at work post-pandemic.

“It’s a good opportunity to see if things can be done better for the interests of both the business and staff.

“We’re advising our members to keep in mind that everyone has been through a turbulent time and this is an opportunity to reflect on what we have learnt, listen to the team and see what can be re-organised.”

3 tips for a smooth transition

  1. Hybrid model of work

Hybrid businesses environments focus on structure and sociability while also emphasising independence and flexibility. This type of practice will keep the majority of staff feeling empowered, loyal and productive at work. Research is also showing that most Australians workers want to return to their physical office, but the preference for up to 60 per cent is that they’d like to split their working time between home and office, according to a recent Boston Consulting Group study.

  1. Bottom-up, not top-down

We need to trust our teams that they can make the transition back to the physical workplace work. Employers and business owners will do well if they are understanding of their employees’ circumstances. COVID-19 has affected a lot of people and many are exhausted, particularly as we approach the end of the year. There is also a lot of anxiety around the economy and job security, so this needs to be taken into account.

  1. Plan B

While the Australian economy is opening up again quickly, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be new issues arising along the way. Until the vaccine is widely available it’s worth having a back-up plan in place should the business experience a crisis. For example, that might mean setting up separate teams when employees return to work, this will help manage control if there is an outbreak and one team needs to be quarantined, in that case, the other team will be able to keep the business running.

Spencer suggests it’s important to acknowledge the hard yard’s your staff may have been doing whilst working from home.

“No doubt employees will have had the sense that they have done a great job at home over these last few months – often they might have had to juggle kids at home or put in extra hours working late or catching up on tasks over the weekend.

“It’s really important to recognise this dedication – thank your team for their hard work and support during difficult times,” he says.

Lay a foundation for the future

Lastly, Spencer believes now is the time to set the standard for future business practice.

“There may be expectations for managers to be accommodating and understanding. The first few weeks might be fine as there will be a bit of energy and excitement, but keep in mind this may well change over time.

“This is the optimum time to make plans for how the business will emerge from COVID and re-define itself through 2021.”

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