With lockdown restrictions easing, some people are starting to return to offices and workplaces. However, the current crisis has shown many companies they can function successfully without having employees in a physical office. In fact, businesses are now starting to question the “why” of an office.
A recent McKinsey & Co survey found that 80% of people enjoyed working from home, while 41% said that they are more productive than before.
Clearly, some people and businesses will be keen to get back to how things were before the outbreak. However, the truth is that the offices now available to us are very different places: reduced occupancy, enforced social distances and increased anxiety about contact with co-workers. Will people want to stand in a crowded elevators anymore? Companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter have announced policies that will allow their employees to work from home until next year, if not indefinitely. And, this past week, Slack joined their ranks as well.
But for companies hoping for a hybrid of working from home and the office, there’s also a reputational risk concern. No one wants to be known as the company that caused a coronavirus spike. One of the greatest thinkers about decision making and risk is the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahnemann. He recognised that people tend to fear loses more than they appreciate gains – the core insight in what has become known as prospect theory.
In other words, we tend to focus on the small probability of something bad happening and try to guard against it. These effects are very sensitive to how we frame risks. For instance, a doctor presents a diagnosis and states that there is a 5% mortality rate with a certain procedure. Naturally, we fixate on the 5% rather than identifying with the 95% survival rate.
Businesses have to watch out for these biases as they start to make decisions on how and when they open up. Public-facing industries, such as hospitality and retail, will face different challenges than office-based ones. For the latter, the new status quo has suddenly flipped from office environments to working from home. Across the last three months, businesses have learned that employees can work from home successfully. It is no longer seen as a perk but instead as a viable, productive way of working.
However, the pandemic has left its mark on everyone, and the fear it provokes is still present. Returning to the office, even in limited ways, will require sensitivity to the broad range of emotional states felt by employees and employers everywhere. Some people will be more anxious about returning than others, while the few that have already had the virus may feel invincible.
In a recent (virtual) HBR roundtable, Chuck Robbins, the CEO of Cisco Systems, stated this was the moment for business leaders to show up. “Employees and society want to see who you are as a company. What do you stand for? The answers will have lasting impact as we move beyond this."
How to help your employees transition back to life at the office There will be a learning curve as employees re-adjust to working in office environments. At Friday Pulse, we suggest you prepare for the next normal by adopting an approach that is empathetic, grounded and holistic.
Our Five Ways to Happiness at Work framework identifies five positive behaviours that are the key drivers of positive, productive workplace cultures and can help think through the policies you create. They are:
Taking these seriously will help ensure that unhappiness and resentment won’t set in.
Here’s how you can help.
We’ve talked about how checking in with team members and colleagues is extremely important before. Nothing has changed here — especially now when there might be different groups of people entering the office.
There’s some proof that the increased productivity that many people are seeing lately comes from the social capital built from water-cooler conversations, meetings and other social interactions that came before the crisis. Don’t be afraid to engage in small talk and make an effort to build relationships and friendships at work — in person or online. Even if you’re not in the office, meet up with a colleague and go for a walk when possible. It’s more of a time investment than it used to be, but it pays dividends in better relationships.
With different groups entering the office at varying times, employers need to be aware of the bias of face time. For example, if a CEO spends their day at the office, it sets up a situation where the handful of people in the office that same day will have greater access to them. Because of any naturally occurring conversations, there’s a risk of a biased opinion forming.
To counter this, be sure to give your employees an equal opportunity to voice their opinions. A platform like Friday Pulse gives an unbiased view of what’s going on across all levels of your company.
Allow your employees to choose a level of risk they are comfortable with — it’s the best way to work with people that may be anxious about returning to the workplace. For some people, this could mean coming into the office once or twice a week, while for others this could mean coming in every day. Be willing to work with people and give them the space they need to feel comfortable.
Agility and the ability to adapt have never been more critical. This is just as true for how we interact together as it is to the products and services we produce and sell. No one knows what the best way is going forward. But keep checking in and reflecting on what is going well and what isn’t. Adjust appropriately, and you’ll get there.
Dealing with all of the challenges of the last few months has naturally been everyone’s priority. It has been difficult to imagine what the future might look like. However, it is critical and inspiring to actively shape our futures, even when the whole world has changed. The companies that can lift their heads and see the opportunities, and not fixate on the dangers, will be the ones that not only survive but thrive.
Friday Pulse tracks the wellbeing of teams. It gives employees a platform to share how they feel, and space for them to share what’s going well and air concerns, while enabling teams to adjust quickly.
The road forward is undoubtedly bumpy for employers and employees alike. It will require serious consideration of organizational priorities. Still, as we make an effort to be flexible, to show kindness and empathy for everyone’s working situations, we will be able to create better wellbeing for everyone.