As the days go by, most companies are making a critical assessment regarding the future path of their company: the return to a physical office space. Perhaps it is not a matter of to do or not to do, but more a matter of who, when, and how frequently. Every company needs to decide if there are roles that cannot be done remotely and others that lend themselves nicely to increased autonomy. Regardless of what questions your company is grappling with, there is no doubt that the return to an onsite office will be a tricky thing to navigate and here’s why.

Let’s start with a few critical assumptions:

  • Your company hires smart and competent people. Based on the news, internet, and headhunters, these people know that skilled labour is in high demand, and they can make choices about where and how they work.
  • Onboarding employees and turnover is expensive. We are not just talking about money, but the time and effort investment in training and growth is substantial. High turnover can also cause a domino effect and lead other employees to look for external opportunities.
  • Your teams are diverse and multi-generational. They are in different phases of life and career, and they place a higher value on certain aspects of the life-work spectrum.
  • You care about the wellbeing of your employees and the overall health of the business; you want to retain your teams and are willing to consider what they might need or want to stay put.
  • The abrupt shift to a fully remote experience at the beginning of the pandemic may have put a spotlight on the fact that your company and employees need specific training to work effectively in the all-remote or integrated/hybrid model. Additionally, it may have created some challenges for the company culture and employee’s sense of inclusion and belonging.

If these assumptions are true, your company should already be holistically and critically assessing its internal workforce.

Moving out of the pandemic, work experience topics have come to the forefront of the return-to- work conversation: employees want to create an opportunity to work the way they want (onsite, remotely, or a hybrid of the two) and employers want to optimise the work experience for the sake of efficiency, effectiveness, engagement, and retention. But how does a company create an environment that engages and supports all employees regardless of where they sit?

“Companies can help employees by providing a supportive workplace with a robust and positive company culture.”

Follow the leader

Let us start with the need for leadership. Plainly speaking, managers and leaders must trust the employees to do their job (refer to the first assumption). In today’s working world, more than ever before, managers need to develop leadership and people skills. When managers are co-located with their team members, it is easier to feel a sense of control merely because they share the same space – I see you, therefore I trust you are working. Managers with remote or hybrid teams need to be skilled in motivating and inspiring the team members from afar, so they understand the importance of their productivity and personal impact on the collective goal. Leaders also need to be comfortable with setting expectations, giving appropriate support, having crucial conversations, and giving employees the autonomy to perform.

Training is a very important component in positively preparing the company and teams for their varied interactions. Specific training and guidelines for the employees who work remotely and those who work with remote workers can be developed and delivered. However, depending upon the scope of the trainings already in place, an expanded training library may be in order. Core relational skills like employee engagement, decision making, effective communication, conflict resolution, and team effectiveness should be provided to all employees to build skills.

Building blocks

Another important consideration is making sure all employees have the right tools. IT platforms should provide features for collaboration and communication; they should enable effectiveness and be user friendly. It isn’t just the software; it is hardware too. If all employees, regardless of location, will be engaging internally or externally over video conferencing, they should have headsets and cameras. Everyone should have the ability to be seen and heard equally. If employees are to feel a sense of belonging in these integrated environments and be set up for success, they need the professional tools and technologies built exactly with those environments in mind.

No matter what location employees choose to work, there are pros and cons and the best way to smooth the road for all is to be aware and transparent about the considerations from all perspectives. Companies can help employees by providing a supportive workplace with a robust and positive company culture. In turn, employees can be a company’s most powerful ally as a cultural carrier or ambassador which can drive engagement, satisfaction, and retention initiatives. All workers need to prioritise building and maintaining relationships with coworkers as part of community building, team effectiveness, and connectivity.

Companies and employees can work together to create opportunities for these types of interactions via employee meetings/events, newsletters, employee resource groups, virtual informal gatherings, and employee wellness/clubs. Remote workers should remember that staying visible with coworkers is important for team interactions and onsite workers should make sure to engage remote workers in discussions for team interactions. Everyone is responsible to be aware of their own potential biases, unconscious or otherwise, towards those not co-located with them.

As the workplace continues to morph into its future state, there are skills and considerations that will help support and nurture a connected and effective work environment.

A company willing to invest in their workforce through expanded training, strong IT tools, and choice of work location sends a signal of trust to the employee. This, in turn, builds a culture where the employee feels appreciated and respected.

The desire for a personalised work experience, driven by employee values and preference, will have a positive effect on employee satisfaction which will likely increase engagement and retention rates. This will ultimately bring mutual gain and balance that benefits both employees and the company.