Return to work offers us a unique opportunity to change everything

Four day week return to workThe way we worked before covid was fundamentally broken; our wellbeing, our climate and our business efficiency. The genie is out of the bottle; going back just simply isn’t an option. When considering the return to work, there are organisations making knee-jerk decisions trying to avoid a complex minefield of potential missteps which could impact the safety of their employees and health of their business. Simply creating a ‘covid secure’ workplace right now would be a great opportunity lost in cementing real change and transformation into the world of work; for our wellbeing and our planet.

It can be incredibly challenging to know where to begin, there isn’t one size fits all. But, asking why and breaking down exactly why you’re making these changes is crucial. Are you making changes because you’re following government guidance or are you making changes because you’ve listened to your people and want to either look at the marginal gains to achieve workplace evolution or go big and aim for workplace transformation?

If we imagine the return to work as a circle, at its core sits your business needs, just beyond that is your people’s needs and one step further at the outer ring of the circle is your support services: HR, Facilities and IT.  It’s imperative to work from the inside out, ensuring the business aims are met, the needs desires of the people are met, and the support services are enabling the people to achieve those business aims.

The outer ring ultimately enables the people and develops and implements policies and procedures, which in turn protect your employees and create a safe physical and virtual environment. This layer of protection helps employees feel safe and supported enough to feedback into your business which in turn will increase ownership, engagement, productivity, and output.


No paper exercise

It sounds so simple, but we know things are more complex in life than they are on paper. As an organisation, you not only have to create an environment which is safe, but you have to allay fears, irradiate prejudices and open people’s minds up to change – which is perhaps the toughest but most important thing an organisation can do.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Organisations who were already agile certainly had the fewest headaches over the last few months[/perfectpullquote]

There are, however, ways which will make this transition smoother and align the rings of your business circle. From reducing gossip and providing clear communications, to ensuring senior leader buy-in, the following steps will provide a guide to where you can start to help get your business back up and running and looking to the future.

The organisations who were already agile certainly had the fewest headaches over the last few months and there is no doubt that our resilience has increased; both as employers and employees. We often talk about agile working like it’s a ‘thing’ but ultimately, it’s a mindset which is embedded in and flows through the organisation in what it does (and doesn’t) do: Attitudes, Skills, Process, Infrastructure, Leadership, Behaviours, Rituals, When people work, Where people work, IT, Telephony, Policies and Spaces. Agile cultures enable People to achieve their best day at work, every day, wherever they are.

The pandemic has provided us all with the perfect opportunity to catapult into the future; assessing what is working, what isn’t working and ultimately pressing reset to reimagine the workplace and move the organisation forward considerably faster than usual. We don’t know what the future looks like but agility, resilience and bravery to make change are certainly going to be crucial.

There are lots of organisations who are trying to balance the immediate needs whilst stargazing into the future and working out the many unknowns we are all experiencing right now. Since the pandemic it feels like everybody has an opinion on the workplace, as an industry we should be happy, but to truly take advantage of the opportunity at play here, we must listen before we act.


Stakeholder management

When implementing your return to work, you’ll need to focus on stakeholder management. From key persons of influence, department heads and senior leaders to the teams working tirelessly on the ground in such difficult circumstances. The buy-in from top-level employees is imperative to ensure the success of your return to work. By ensuring department leaders and executives on board, they will be able to deal directly with the fears of their reports. We must listen, more than ever, to our people.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The wall of resistance should be avoided at all costs[/perfectpullquote]

If you’ve ever implemented a new project, whether it was the introduction of technology or a new procedure, you’ll be all too aware of the middle management sticky layer and the trickle-down effect of communications. Most employees tend to follow the lead of their managers, and if their managers are supportive, they are more likely to approach it with an open mind. However, when key stakeholders dislike or disagree with a policy or project, they tend to trickle down on everyone else, and suddenly you’re working up against a wall.

This wall of resistance should be avoided at all costs. As such, you should work with your stakeholders and leaders and listen to their suggestions to ensure hearts and minds are brought along the journey. Leaders are likely to have a greater understanding of how the news will be received by their teams and will be able to offer vital anecdotal evidence as well as up to date employee perceptions. Taking the time to listen to employees could be the difference between a smooth transition and a future thriving business or a bumpy ride which holds you back much longer than needed; or worse, leads to the business fighting for survival.


Thinking bespoke

The biggest lessons you can learn from speaking to and listening to stakeholders is to be compassionate and flexible. There is no one size fits all approach; everyone has different organisational structures and priorities which should be taken into account. As such, once you’ve shared initial plans, taking on board what your stakeholders have to offer is the next step. Listening to their advice will help create a more bespoke return to workplace plan, which in turn will lead to a more natural transition not only in the current circumstances but into the future evolution of the workplace.

A bespoke return to work plan will not only allow for a more successful operation but it will ensure wellbeing and engagement don’t plummet and ultimately affect the brand, recruitment, retention and bottom line of the organisation. The last few months have shown that agility and resilience are essential traits for business survival, and along with our learnings around what worked and what didn’t, these mindsets need to be carried through to the future during our reimagination of work and the workplace. We must be brave enough to make changes, fail, learn and continually improve.

The last few months have reminded us that we are vulnerable, time is crucial and that when everything stops, it’s people and connection that we miss. Humility, caution and hope will drive us into the future; we’ve been reminded of our priorities, our values, our purpose.

If organisations aren’t putting their people first, why would your people bother to make your organisation a priority when things get tough and they need to dig deep?