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Across the country, majority of states have less than 20% of their workforce back in the office, including Victoria which is still in full lockdown. As businesses work out long-term workforce plans, HR managers across our country are experiencing challenges in mobilising workforce back into the office.

So, what is the challenge?

Neither employers or employees realise that a lot has happened in the last 6 months since COVID-19 changed our lives. What used to be a very familiar and comfortable setting for many individuals now has become a strange new world.

Now let’s think about our current situation. COVID-19 has undoubtedly caused a lot of change in a very short period, making the ways we used to do business seem uncomfortable, unsafe, or strange to employees. HR professionals historically focused on the well-being of their staff are now asking themselves what are the obvious and not-so-obvious things we need to consider when returning employees to their former workplace, and how do we reintegrate them in the best possible manner?

Let’s explore some of the unexpected challenges in returning people to work. We’ll highlight a few examples of where things can go awry and how to be best prepared – namely, designing workplace formats for your staff’s expectations and ensuring reduced attrition of good people.

1. Different expectations with the daily commute:

With moving to remote work, unsurprisingly, employees who willingly commuted 90 minutes each way prior to the pandemic will do no more. The pandemic created a long enough break to allow individuals to reconsider their options, and many are realizing all the things they can do with the extra 3 hours in their day that was previously wasted on the commute, as well as saving money and possible health concerns from sitting on crowded public transport.

The solution? Engage with one-on-one conversations with your commuting staff to understand their situation. Offering options for remote work, or flexible start times, will ensure your staff feel consulted and engaged with the new version of work.

2. More family time:

Any of us with a busy household can understand the challenges of getting work done while the kids are playing in the house or the dog decides to bark incessantly while you’re delivering a very important virtual presentation. While some of your employees can't wait to get out of the house to sit in their quiet and peaceful offices again, others have rekindled their family bonds and may not look forward to the day your office officially reopens.

The impact on your employees can be substantial, and not limited to just them – some employees will be dealing with children or loved ones who are readjusting to school or other commitments, and they too need increased support. Enabling your people managers with flexible decision making and supporting the needs of the individuals will be key in the post-pandemic work environment. Taking an empathetic approach and consider the employee and their wider family life.

3. New expectations around remote work

Prior to the pandemic, remote work was considered a bonus option for employees. Now, after many months of working successfully as remote employees, these people will expect ongoing flexibility on where they work. For many employees, it will feel as if they have earned their “can be trusted to work remotely” badge, and have proven they are reliable enough to work unsupervised.

Approach this challenge with empathy and flexibility. Thinking back over the last few months, it's easy to see that the two attributes we have required the most is empathy and flexibility. We had no choice but to be flexible to stay operational and productive, and empathetic to avoid conflict.

For the weeks and months to come, employers will be challenged to create environments that address employees' varying needs during the return to work. Companies that will be able to strike a great balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the company will succeed and reap incredible rewards including productivity, motivation and most importantly – high performance culture. Start now with defining the parameters of your return to work programs so that you don't have to operate case-by-case.

If you're looking for more advice on how to continue managing through uncertainty and moving toward a successful build of an agile, flexible and scalable business operational unit, please check out some of our other resources.

Businesses can email or call 1300 287 213 for free first-step advice on how to ensure your payroll processes can safeguard your payroll compliance. Follow us on Linkedin or sign up here to receive our articles direct to your email inbox.


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