18 November, 2021

Return to Office- How to Create the 2.0 of your work culture

Return to office is the predominant topic of conversation among employers today. Spurred by the receding pandemic scare, businesses are encouraging employees to resume operations from work premises. However, the process looks far from straightforward and nothing like business as usual. For starters, employees are used to flexibility in work which means that hybrid working will need to be introduced in job functions which do not necessitate on-premise work. Two, organizations need to acknowledge differentiated contexts within which their employees have been working to provide extended support. For example, those involved with infant/elderly/disabled care may continue to require telecommuting to keep giving their best at work. Given that new expectations for the workplace are laid down, how can organizations re-create the charm of the physical office for the employees who are returning? Many argue that it is impossible to go back to the old office culture, but that does not mean its essential elements cannot be retained. Here is how you can plan for an office culture revival:

  • Create Nostalgia

Pick up on the best moments or company highlights like annual day events, outings etc. and start creating a return to office buzz. Maybe you can post pictures with captions like ‘2 years ago today’ on the organization’s employee recognition platform or social wall, inviting them to come back and create new memories. Alternatively, a small ‘welcome back!’ note along with a flower or chocolates can be kept on all employee desks- it is the gesture that counts!

  • Keep Listening

Pulse surveys can be taken at least 2 months prior to an imminent return to decide on how exactly the process will pan out. Employee sentiment can provide guidelines for structuring the hybrid work model. For example, they can be allotted a certain number of days they work remotely for, or the events on which they must be present in office like client meetings or all-hands meetings. Surveys through an employee listening tool need to be continued even as the workforce joins back to keep an ear to the ground and measure employee engagement levels.

  • Emphasize the Benefits

It is natural to feel skeptical to return to a working style we have abandoned for so long now but it will help to give a reminder of its’ benefits, especially through the first batch of employees returning. This can be done through employee testimonials on the company social wall or publishing updates on employee engagement activities like hackathons, team sports, mentoring programs etcetera which involve connecting with one another. The idea is to make employees feel cared for and remind them of the unique benefits of in-person collaboration, which can be replaced by nothing else.

  • Balance Safety with Fun

It is important to communicate in advance exactly what a day in office will look like in terms of safety protocols- including the seating plan, meeting rules, canteen rules, sanitization measures etc. The focus must be on responsible socialization. Dedicated recreational spaces can be created like ‘snooker for 2’ or ‘coffee for 4’ or even video gaming corners can be setup within the office. Scheduling transparent Q&As through your employee engagement platform and sharing constant updates on safety measures will lend comfort to employees’ minds.

While it is important to address the realities of today, the idea of coming back to office is to work collaboratively towards a better future. Organizations must inspire employees to reunite- not just for the sake of the business but for their own friends, their mentors and the rush of working together physically as a team. Having said so, the pandemic has changed everyone in many ways- there is a renewed focus on themes like work-life balance and wellness. Employees need to be reassured that only the good parts of the change will be imbibed in office 2.0 while retaining the strong bonds and relationships of the old era.