With uncertainty from rising cases of COVID-19 variants, companies are questioning when there will be a solid time to transition their teams back to the office. As many feel the fatigue of remote work, from constant Zoom meetings to virtual happy hours, leaders are ready to resume “business as usual.” However, that might be more difficult than initially expected. Some may ask, “Is it even possible to transition all employees to the office all at once?”

A widespread transition back to the office will not be easy as the foreseeable months left in 2021 are looking unclear. Though, hope remains for 2022. Many employees have grown fond of remote work and may prefer to stay home. Or they are interested in a hybrid version of remote and in person. Luckily, HR leaders are here to help. There are many things HR professionals can do to smooth over this transition. For instance, create a sense of security when making the big jump back to the office, be open about the challenges ahead, offer flexibility in the change, and take an active role in maintaining employee mental health.

Acknowledge the challenges ahead

The switch to remote work was not a simple one. Each employee faced unique challenges when integrating remote work into their lives, from caring for a child or significant other to finding a reliable place to work. Making the immediate ad-hoc switch to physically being in the office full-time will not be as simple as anticipated.

HR professionals can combat anxiety over making this transition by being open and honest with their teams on the difficulties of switching back to in-person work. Show gratitude for your employees who made the transition to remote work early on in the pandemic, and acknowledge you understand the obstacles ahead as your team moves back to the office. A frequent flow of communication will help employees feel their concerns over moving back are not going unheard and your leadership is prepared to support them through it all.

Offer flexibility

Having flexibility will be crucial for employees who are finding difficulty in considering the transition. Some may need time to resume regular routines, such as dropping off the kids at school or taking the dog to daycare. While a quick switch back to the office might be ideal for company leaders, it simply isn’t practical for employees who have spent the past year with their work and personal lives tangled together.

HR professionals should incorporate flexible schedules for those transitioning back to in-person work. Employees have grown accustomed to restricting their home lives to absorb work responsibilities and may have become fond of not having to be in the office five days a week. Some might prefer to be in-person full-time, while others might desire a hybrid option that only requires them to be in the office a few days a week. Actively listen to your employee’s opinions on the topic and be flexible in your requirements to include their desires into your ongoing strategy.

Proactively support your team

While not nearly as harrowing as the original transition to remote work, the switch back to the office is sure to increase stress and anxiety. Employees might have to rearrange their current routines to accommodate this transition, which is not an easy feat. Understand this transition will be emotionally demanding and should happen gradually instead of all at once. Proactively support your teams by providing mental health and counseling support, employee assistance programs and open communication with decision-makers.

Companies that acknowledge the difficulty of a transition back to the office will be the ones most equipped to handle it successfully. While HR professionals have many obstacles ahead, their continued dedication to and support of employee well-being will go a long way in successfully ushering in a transition back to the workplace. While bringing the office back together may not happen instantaneously, creating guidance and clarity during this unknown period will foster confidence and build a deeper level of trust.

Brian S. Anders joined WorkSmart Systems in 2019 as the Director of Human Resources. He has extensive experience in all aspects of HR within the service industry and primary areas of acumen include employee relations, organizational training and development, project and talent management and recruitment.

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