Considerations for an Effective Return-to-Work Plan

Posted on February 9, 2024 | Updated on June 11, 2024

Every day, another company announces its return-to-work plan for employees. Although you might be planning your own, it is essential to recognize the workforce is different from what it used to be.

Employees have had a taste of autonomy, fairness and work-life balance and are unwilling to compromise for the sake of in-person work. Those who fail to give an inch wind up losing their top talent to companies that do. 

Your strategy for a grand return to the office must be carefully thought out. Here is everything you must consider for an effective return-to-work initiative. 

Is the Workplace Heading Back to the Office?

According to a new study by Resume Builder, 90% of companies will occupy office space again by 2024. Twenty-eight percent of executives have threatened to fire employees who do not comply with return-to-work mandates.

Several big-name companies already implemented their return-to-work plans, including JP Morgan, Amazon, Apple, Disney, Chipotle, Citigroup, IBM, and Goldman Sachs. Of course, employees have fought to maintain their newly-found work-life balance with remote work.

Post-pandemic, nearly 12.7% and 28.2% of employees are full-time remote workers or hybrid workers, respectively. Meanwhile, 21% would take another job offering flexible work over one that didn’t. 

Remote and flexible work is much more than rolling out of bed and sitting at one’s desk in pajamas. It equates to feeling less stress, having greater autonomy, prioritizing personal health and relationships, and less commuting time. 

The benefits have ultimately led to more productive, better-performing workers demonstrating greater loyalty to their companies. Therefore, companies must offer something comparable if they want employees back in the office. 

Open Office Space

8 Strategies for an Effective Return-to-Work Plan

Not everyone is enthusiastic about returning to the office. Employees are keen on retaining their autonomy after saving money on transportation and finding a groove working from home.

Executives must be strategic in their return-to-work plan. After all, the workforce has changed drastically, and their plans could be a make-or-break decision for hiring and retention. Here are eight strategies for making the office a safe, happier and more productive environment.

1. Remain Flexible and Adaptable

Employers who believe they can recapture the pre-pandemic business landscape will discover their efforts null. Even if you intend to create a return-to-work plan, it is best to remain flexible and adaptable.

Remember that 59% of employees would accept a job offer if they could work a hybrid or remote schedule. Many employees are also caregivers with responsibilities for older parents and young children.

Without flexibility, you could lose your top talent. Additionally, employees may become less engaged and productive.  

2. Let Human Resources Call the Shots

Executives have a lot on their plate, so much of the return-to-work plan should be left to human resources. The HR department fully understands employees’ needs and desires and can create processes, training, planning and incentives around them.

According to “people leaders,” it is better to refer to data and worker attitudes than decide what the company culture is. Those who adopt a more fluid approach to policies and are willing to try new systems have much better outcomes. 

Workplace Collaboration

3. Offer Incentives

Employees require fair pay, benefits and other incentives to make their commute to the office worthwhile. If it’s been some time since you reviewed the company’s salaries and benefits package — for instance, before the pandemic — it’s time to revisit.

Reimbursement for tuition fees, transportation, phone, and internet is a starting point. However, delivering exemplary medical and mental health care benefits is crucial. Additionally, retirement options are also important to today’s workers. 

Retirement age is expected to rise from 62 to 67 years old for anyone born after 1959. Many younger generations haven’t even begun putting money away. A 401k or contribution match is an incentive to consider.

4. Ask for Feedback

Your employees’ opinions should play into your plans for returning to the office. Work-life is very different from how it used to be. 

Asking for employee feedback informs you of what’s working well and what needs changing — this is where adaptability comes into play. You might believe your return-to-work plan is foolproof, but employees could have different ideas. 

Asking for insights and feedback shows you care and are willing to work with them to meet their needs at work. It further fosters loyalty, respect and excellent job satisfaction.

5. Train Supervisors

Team supervisors and management roles are a critical part of the return-to-work plan. To aid a seamless transition back to the office, they must have the tools, resources and capabilities to do so successfully.

Offering training and support for them to manage their teams effectively in the post-pandemic world is essential. A greater emphasis should be placed on diversity and inclusion, empathetic business practices, and technological advances to inspire greater job performance and satisfaction.

6. Adopt Empathic Leadership

A return-to-work plan cannot be a one-and-done deal. You must overhaul the entire organization and business model for long-term success. How do you achieve this? Integrate empathy into your workplace. 

According to professional services company Ernst & Young’s Empathy in Business Survey, 85% of respondents saw increased team productivity, and 78% noticed less turnover. Ninety-two percent of workers said empathic leadership inspired them to stay with their company. 

Building your own empathy is the first step toward empathic leadership — then you must train managers to do the same. Create opportunities for employees of all backgrounds to grow and contribute to the company. Check in with employees, show an interest in them, involve everyone in decision-making, and develop compassion.

Co-workers at Work

7. Remain Inclusive

One thing remote work allowed for during the pandemic was for people with disabilities to work effectively from their homes with the necessary equipment. Women, people of color, and introverts also found a more comfortable and productive work environment telecommuting.

For example, you might say disability is but a small fraction of employees. However, more often than not, stigma and job insecurity prevent many employees from sharing about their disability in the first place — those with disabilities are 1.5 times more likely to face discrimination than those who do not have one.

Welcoming people back to the office means ensuring the continuity of inclusivity and diversity. Recreate a quiet and calming environment for the office introvert to contribute best while ensuring professional development and safety for diverse teams.

Accessibility should be at the forefront of these initiatives, as well as redesigning workstations and providing awareness training. Flexible work is another way to lean into inclusiveness.

8. Emphasize Well-Being and Safety

Employees are especially on edge about health and wellness after the pandemic. Likewise, trauma from the events and the current economic state have hindered mental health. 

Suppose someone at the office falls ill and comes to work to avoid lost wages. They are less likely to be productive while giving their cold to others on their team. Employees will stay home with paid sick leave, preventing the spreading of contagion to other employees. 

Mental health benefits, encouraging time off to recharge and offering perks like discounted gym services and nutritional counseling are other ways to put employee health and well-being at the forefront.

A Strategic Return-to-Work Plan for Everyone

Your return-to-work process won’t appease everyone. However, wearing blinders and believing things can return to how they were won’t get you or your business anywhere. Consider who would be most affected by the new policies and solicit genuine feedback to aid decision-making for the company as a whole.

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About The Author

Cooper Adwin is the Assistant Editor of Designerly Magazine. With several years of experience as a social media manager for a design company, Cooper particularly enjoys focusing on social and design news and topics that help brands create a seamless social media presence. Outside of Designerly, you can find Cooper playing D&D with friends or curled up with his cat and a good book.

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