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How to Build a Return-To-Work Plan Perfect for Your Small Business

by Ben Spradling | Jun 29, 2021 8:41:06 AM

Rethinking your workplace post-pandemic is requiring, well, a lot of thought. Rising vaccination rates are allowing COVID-19 precautions to ease, and now business owners are tasked with creating and implementing return-to-work plans for their teams. There’s a lot riding on what they decide.

Employee expectations aren’t what they used to be. After more than a year of remote work, employees now know that a traditional nine-to-five, in-office format doesn’t always have to be a part of their professional pursuits. In fact, the reappearance of commutes and cubicles is already causing workers to consider quitting.

Some prominent companies are currently learning that lesson the hard way. Apple’s decision to have employees return to the office three days a week resulted in internal backlash. Negative employee criticism of the return-to-work plan Amazon originally announced earlier this spring forced it to add more flexibility into an updated policy.

Your business may not be operating at the same level as those two tech giants, but if your return-to-work plan doesn’t align with your team’s needs, their issues could soon be yours. That’s especially true when you consider that many companies are struggling to hire. Employees hold a lot of leverage right now.

Feedback needs to come first.

So, how does your business formulate a post-pandemic plan that won’t cause your staff to jump ship? Requesting and listening to employee feedback is a great first step. Share a return-to-work survey, or maybe host a virtual town hall. You can even implement tools for collecting your team’s thoughts.

Bottom line: You don’t have to guess or assume how your employees feel about a potential move back to the workplace. Gather those opinions directly from the ones who hold them. Plus, seeking out their thoughts may help the team feel like they’re in on the decision, and that can lead to higher levels of engagement across your organization.

What you’ll likely find once you sift through all that feedback is that needs tend to vary across teams. Workstyles often differ and departments sometimes require specific resources in order to fulfill their responsibilities. There likely is no one-size-fits-all plan for a return to workplace.

Conform to your business’s culture.

Better Business Bureau is no exception. Feedback from our staff revealed that some employees preferred to primarily work remotely, while others were eager for a more permanent return to the office. So, like many other organizations, BBB is determining if its future of work should be built on a long-term hybrid work model – one that allows employees to work from home, in the office, or on the go.

The BBB team tasked with investigating its proposed return-to-work plan leaned on the Hello Hybrid workplace playbook to employee an approach using these five considerations:

  1. 3 Ws (Who, Where, and When): Determine when employees should be required to work, where that work should be performed, and who will be impacted. Do some departments need to be in an office to perform their work? Should everyone work remotely on the same day(s) of the week? Does everyone need to be available at the same core hours every day? How flexible can we make things?

  2. Collaboration and Availability: Identify which communication channels should be used and in what circumstances, as well as establish when meetings are better suited to be held in person vs. remotely. Do the organization believe certain types of collaboration are better supported at the workplace? Do they understand the dynamics of a meeting that suggests it would be better held in the workplace rather than remotely? 

  3. Training and Onboarding: Provide a consistent onboarding experience for all employees regardless of whether the hire works in-office or remotely, and deliver training tailored to meet their individual roles and responsibilities. How can new employees feel connected to the organization within their first three months of employment? What measurements are in place to identify when current methods of training and onboarding need to be improved or reinforced? 

  4. Physical Workplace Safety: Maintain a safe workplace without creating an uncomfortable or awkward environment for team members. How can people feel confident that it is safe to come to the office? What are ways to communicate safety guidelines for working in the office? How is the organization identifying and documenting its goals around social distancing, face coverings, and other safety protocols?

  5. Workplace and At-Home Resources/Setup. Ensure that all employees have the tools they need to successfully complete their work. Should virtual conferencing etiquette differ based on whether the audience is internal or external? Does technology hardware need to change to support increased virtual calls? How should the setup of the workplace change to better support different ways of working? 

Those considerations are anchored by organizational values including trust, accountability, psychological safety, culture, and equity. For BBB’s return-to-work-plan to be successful, it must reflect our organization’s primary principles. For example, as a company that prioritizes and promotes transparency, BBB employees need the autonomy to speak freely and honestly on work-related issues. Any return-to-work-plan you introduce should cultivate your company’s ethos for it to succeed.

Be ready for your rollout.

The rollout of that plan should include an equal amount of forethought, and an ample amount of prep time. Providing employees the details of your finalized return-to-work plan in advance of its official start date gives team members space to adjust, especially those transitioning back into the office. Having weeks to prepare can go a long way toward employees accepting what the future of work looks like at your business.

A full dose of transparent communication helps, too. Don’t announce the plan without providing some context. Explain how employee feedback connected with other resources you leaned on to create the work format you feel best fits your team and benefits the organization. And if your plan includes some new policies, such as updated safety protocols, prepare to repeat those steps. Reminders are usually the key to turning new directions into regular action.

Maybe most importantly, though, is remembering that the final return-to-work plan you roll out with your team will not be permanent. Calls for employee feedback have to continue so you can accurately measure your plan’s effectiveness, and then make changes based on the insight they share. You may find that your hybrid plan will need to lean a little heavier toward remote work or shift closer toward a more in-office format.

Expectations shifted during the pandemic. Workplaces now need to prioritize the needs of the teams they host – not the other way around. Post-pandemic return-to-work-plans are an opportunity to demonstrate an understanding of that new dynamic. Your employees are counting on it.

What does your business’s return-to-work plan look like? Are you facing any challenges? Let us know what approach your team is taking in the comments section.

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