First Time In the Office: Helping Remote Hires Transition To On-site

A large percentage of new staff hired in the last two years has never stepped foot in an office on company property.

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First Time In the Office: Helping Remote Hires Transition To On-site

The coronavirus pandemic upended recruitment and hiring: the entire process was remote for many workers. Interviewed via the airways, hired through email exchanges, and onboarded virtually, a large percentage of new staff hired in the last two years has never stepped foot in an office on company property. As we return to on-site work, leaving the familiar remote workspace may be challenging for many of these newer staff members.

You may have recruited new grads for their first job out of college, or entry-level staffers, hired for a first job ever. They may have been on the payroll for a year or two but have never met their peers face-to-face.

Their home office setup was likely a comfortable (and convenient) environment — and let’s be honest, none of us was wearing shoes. Shifting to on-site may be intimidating and challenging.

Still, you can transition them into on-site work with some planning and patience.

Today’s workforce demographics

According to Purdue University Global, there are currently five generations in the workforce. Chances are, some learned to work exclusively in a remote environment. Making sure they transition smoothly might include understanding how each generation interacts.

Here’s today’s breakdown:

  • 2%: Traditionalists — born before 1946
  • 25%: Baby Boomers —1946 to 1964
  • 33%: Generation X —1965 to 1980
  • 35%: Millennials — 1981 to 2000
  • 5%: Generation Z — 2001 to 2020

Gen Z probably took to remote work intuitively. This cohort is more than digitally native; they may have no experience in a world without technology. Research suggests Gen Z enjoys face-to-face interactions but doesn’t use a one-size-fits-all approach. Start with short in-person interactions to build rapport and comfort. Shift to in-person communications transitionally and individually.

Millennials are the largest demographic in the workforce today and account for every level of worker. This generation was the first to transition to a digital workplace on solid footing: most had personal experience with their own tech. Millennials value flexibility. Your desire to bring them back on-site overnight might be a pain point. Make the transition gradual, if necessary, to ensure you don’t lose seasoned talent to your remote-only competition.

Gen X coined the term work/life balance, and remote work may have been its zenith. But this group is flexible and adaptable. They work well with change and value informality. Working from anywhere may have been the most informal arrangement possible. Still, they may be anxious to get back to in-person interactions.

There is likely additional valuable experience in your workforce

You may think your Boomers will opt to retire rather than return. However, a recent survey from Harris suggests the majority would prefer to move to semi-retirement rather than leave the workforce. This group holds the knowledge that saw your organization through good times and bad. Work with them to transition back to the office, even if in a consulting role.

If you have any Traditionalists in your company, bringing them back may be more challenging. They may have health concerns that override the desire to return to in-person work. If possible, consider retirement planning to help them decide if it’s time to return or take the next step in their journey.

Most organizations would do well to make the transition gradually rather than resort to threats and ultimatums. You may be most successful in enticing employees back to on-site work on a case-by-case basis. Once you start getting them back, it’s time to re-acquaint (or acquaint) them with working while wearing shoes.

Make the space welcoming

Make returning to the office an occasion to be celebrated — not a burden to be endured. Post ‘welcome back’ signs offer perks and incentives. You might consider making your office a ‘slipper-friendly’ zone. Ask employees to bring in their fave fuzzy slippers to sport around the office. It’s a fun way to transition back to wearing shoes.

If you have any office swag — t-shirts, mugs, pens, etc., populate desks or workspaces. A donut on every desk — or a healthy alternative treat — is never a bad thing.

Be flexible

Driving in traffic or commuting via public transportation will be new territory for first-timers. Send links to commuter-schedule and traffic advisor apps. New-to-the-office staff may have to tweak their morning routine from comb-through-the-hair / clean shirt to fully dressed and out the door. They’ll need a bit of time to establish new habits. If you can, be flexible as they adapt.

Contrary to popular myth, people don’t adjust to new routines or change habits in 28 days. A U.K. study found it takes 66 days for people to adapt to a new pattern. You’ve invested resources in each staff member, don’t give up easily on them as they adjust to on-site.

Re-onboarding

Your onboarding process during the pandemic probably shifted to digital forms, training, and meetings. Re-onboard staff who’ve never been in the physical workspace to familiarize them with the landscape. Group tours of the office space, from work areas to supply closets and break rooms, might be a good way to let first-timers meet their colleagues in person in an informal setting.

Make the tours complete — include areas they might not need in the short term. They may be accustomed to phoning HR, but make sure first-timers know how to find them, as well.

Include visual aids, hand-outs, or electronic versions, of:

  • Floor plans
  • Maps
  • Organizational charts
  • Other materials that can help define the physical space

This is a space they’ve never encountered before.

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Make time to socialize

Your Zoom meetings may have begun with a short socializing period, but not everyone got a chance to schmooze every time. Making friends at work is essential. Studies show employees who have a ‘work bestie’ find work more enjoyable and believe they’re more productive. Make time, especially in those initial weeks in the office, for staff members to get downtime together.

Arrange meet-and-greet events so workers can put a face to the person they’ve been emailing for the last year-plus. Consider bringing in lunches or snacks for teams to stop work and socialize together. Encourage employees to socialize during the transition — it may help them adapt more to working on-site.

Watch for signs of unrest

In a typical world, about one-third of workers quit their job within the first six months. We don’t have the data yet, but transitioning from remote to on-site work may restart the ‘new hire’ clock for many staff members who’ve never been in the office. The change of surroundings and an unfamiliar commute may feed into a feeling that, even though they’ve been employed for a year or more, they’re new to the organization.

Keep an eye out for first-timers especially. They can feel overwhelmed or neglected as they navigate out of the metaverse and into the real world.

Look for ways to help them network and make connections.

Make sure their supervisor is available whenever they feel out of their depth or overwhelmed. They’ll need support to make the shift successfully — let them know you’re there when needed.

Adapt virtual events

Virtual happy hours were common during the shutdowns — they can easily be live events at local bars and restaurants. If your team members had remote virtual meet-ups, encourage them to translate them to real-world events. Remind staff members of the need to be responsible — unlike virtual social hours, they’ll need to get home safely after real-world events.

Target some for extra attention

Working from home meant being managed at home. Many pandemic hires never met their manager in real life. Communication during remote work might have been minimal. There may need to be an adjustment to lengthier, more detailed conversations for the employee and their supervisor.

Be patient — the rapport built with the staff member remotely can shift to in-person if you give it a chance. If there wasn’t a chance to make a connection in the past, the opportunity is now.

In addition to transitioning their own staff to (or back to) on-site work, managers are making the change as well. For new or even seasoned managers, the transition to on-site management can mean less reliance on technology to monitor workers and production and more reliance on people skills.

A refresher course might help managers read the room or look for signs that someone is uncomfortable or out of their depth. Provide your management team with resources you have available or leadership training online, and be ready to support them, as well.

Transitioning newer hires to on-site work is possible

For hires who’ve never worked on-site, the transition may be awkward. Some will ease into their workspace: others may falter. The key to a successful conversion to on-site will be making the space welcoming, watching for signs they’re overwhelmed, and being there to provide support.

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