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Is going back to work going to work?

Only a Third of Workers Are Happy to Go Back to the Office

As we move from Covid-19 Level 3 to Level 2 and 1, many New Zealand businesses will be asking themselves the same question: when do we have the conversation with our employees about what to expect when they go back to the office?

In a recent survey of 1,300 employers and employees by leading recruitment agency Frog Recruitment, more than 70 percent reported as having some level of anxiety around returning to the office.

“For many businesses, employees and employers have been working from home during the lockdown and in that time have established a ‘new normal’ in the way they work. Zoom meetings are plentiful and ‘casual Friday’ has extended to the other days of the working week,” says Jane Kennelly, Frog Recruitment Business Relationship Director.

“Our new ways of working have impacted work relationships, company cultures and teams. Many we have talked with have raised the question: ‘What if I don’t like the way I used to work anymore? What if I do not like the new team dynamic and would rather keep working from home?”

Outside of a clear health and safety plan, Jane says there are five points to consider when transitioning employees back into the office and has suggestions on how to overcome potential challenges.

1. Leadership matters - more than ever.

During the Covid-19 crisis, business owners and managers have had to be decisive and make some tough decisions. Many employees have had their salaries or hours cut to meet business needs, while senior management may have not. In many cases this has resulted in animosity.

“Acknowledging how employees are feeling in a genuine way and sharing information on how the business is faring is important. Be transparent about what is happening so employees feel they are included in the decision making. Right now, trust between employer and employee is more important than ever.”

2. Back-to-work blues.
Team dynamics have changed. During the past weeks, employees have had to adapt to an ever changing situation, often working outside of their comfort zone and outside of their job description. Having one-to-one conversations to hear concerns from employees, as well as highlighting any positive outcomes are ideal ways to assist a smooth transition to Level 2 and 1.

“Don’t take this step lightly. Pre-Level 2 interviews are an opportunity to provide reassurance and compassion to your people. Employees don’t want feedback; they want to know you care,” says Jane.

3. The new normal.
Our new ways of working have taken some adjusting to and as new processes emerged, we learnt how to navigate them. Many employees embraced the opportunity to learn new skills and plan for the next frontier. Accepting that the ‘old normal’ is in the past and choosing to incorporate the best of what has been learnt in the last two months will set up your team for the future.

“Uniting against COVID-19 has opened the window to innovation and creativity among Kiwi businesses. Reinventing the way of work, employers have been given a golden opportunity to review and make changes - which could include everything from digital rosters, dress code, job descriptions and team composition.”.

4. Company culture.

For many, working from home will have been an enjoyable, rewarding experience. For others it may have been isolating, with motivation hard to sustain on their own. However, it has transpired that flexible working arrangements are now acceptable in the business environment. But how has that affected a company’s culture?

“There are many benefits of working in a shared environment. Being part of a broader group to bounce ideas off, achieving success as a team and enjoying the natural relationship building, friendship and socialisation that comes with working together are vital to a successful workplace. There are many positive benefits to working alongside others in an office and employers need to convey these to their employees.”

5. Empathy.
Mental health, a hot topic prior to the Covid-19 crisis, remains a priority. In the coming months, it is anticipated we will face continued change as a country. Supporting employees to a healthier state of mind will go a long way to helping your team members manage their concerns in anxious times.

“Webinars, flexibility and employee benefits are the way forward. Online learning with well-being topics such as thriving through change, building emotional resilience or managing distractions are extremely helpful right now. Coping strategies learned in a professional setting not only support employees at work, but will spill over to supporting families facing enormous change as well.’”

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