Rick Kershaw, Senior HR Director at Peakon, a Workday company, explains why employees should be at the centre of any return to work plan

When COVID-19 struck many employees across the UK suddenly found themselves either in very different working conditions on the front lines of a global pandemic, or working from home – perhaps for the first time. Some people have enjoyed remote working, while others are increasingly eager to get back to some sort of ‘normality’ – at least for some of the time.

While opinion may be divided, one thing is certain: As restrictions in the UK start to ease and workplaces start to re-open their doors, some employees will be feeling anxious or uncertain about going back. It’s essential therefore that business leaders listen, understand, and respond to their individual employees’ needs and concerns at this time.

Don’t Rush

Already, some traditionally office-based organisations have announced new ‘remote-first’ policies. Meanwhile, others are strongly advocating for hybrid models, or a full return to the physical workspace. But, whichever direction your organisation decides to go in, it’s important not to rush or force your employees into doing anything they are not yet ready for.

Some workers will inevitably feel some anxiety about the coming months, and yet another change to their working lives. There’s a catalogue of concerns and nuances to be understood and carefully considered. So business leaders need to ensure there’s a well organised transition period between where they are now, and the sustainable, long-term model they see themselves operating in the future. A fundamental part of developing a future of work strategy that really works for all employees is first taking the time to consider how to make everyone feel heard, supported, and confident about what’s next.

Listening to Employees

The workforce is not a monolith, nor is the remote working experience. The broad variety of experiences employees have had this past year remind us that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution here. So instead of guessing, or making assumptions about what people want next, business leaders need to listen to and collaborate with their people to identify the best way forward for each individual and the wider organisation. It’s essential to establish and maintain a continuous dialogue with employees to truly understand how they’re feeling and the varying factors that influence their sentiment. Are they worried about starting up the commute again? Or are they really struggling with the monotony of home-working life?

The Right Technology

Technology is instrumental in helping us get the answers to these questions. By regularly surveying employees and paying attention to their responses, businesses can start to truly understand their concerns and make moves to address them. The ‘regularly’ point is key here, especially when the landscape is changing so rapidly. Employers need to use the technology available to them to get a view of engagement that’s always up-to-date and connected across the entire organisation.

They also need to use technology to listen intelligently to what their employees are saying. This means adopting a software that will help them ask the right questions, to the right people, at the right time – and that will adapt based on previous answers, feedback, or events.

The pandemic has changed the way we work forever. Uncertainty will remain a constant over the coming months as organisations and their people continue to find their footing. While taking the next step may feel daunting for business leaders, it could be an opportunity to engage and even recalibrate their relationship with employees. Technology is offering them a real window into the wants and needs of their people. It’s now up to them to use what they learn to lay a solid foundation for the future of work.

Planning An Office Reopening: Top Tips

  1. Follow government, industry and legal advice to keep everyone safe and secure.
  2. Open-up dialogue, asking what employees need to feel confident and safe for any re-integration.
  3. Really listen with empathy to workers and demonstrate that their concerns are valid and are being addressed where appropriate. This will instil confidence as they return.
  4. Be adaptable to change. Employees have unique concerns and needs which are subject to change on a weekly, or even daily, basis.

About the author

Rick Kershaw is Senior HR Director at Peakon, a Workday company

By Lisa Baker, Senior Editor

Senior Editor Lisa Baker is the owner of Need to See it Publishing Group, providing contract news for business and news sites across the UK. Lisa is an experienced HR writer and commentator, editing HR publications for more than 5 years.