Lead Your Return-to-Workplace Strategy With People Operations

If you’re preparing your company’s return to the workplace, here’s why leading with a People Operations approach will benefit your workforce and business.

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Smiling young healthy mixed race female colleagues wearing facial medical masks greeting each other by bumping elbows gesture at workplace keeping social distance, preventing spreading covid19 virus.

It’s been almost two years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and there are many companies whose workforces haven’t stepped foot in their office spaces since early 2020. As the Delta variant caused COVID cases to surge this summer, return-to-workplace plans got delayed. Workers now, however, are transitioning back to office spaces at the highest rate since the pandemic began. As of October 6, 36% of the workforce was back in 10 major cities — according to data by Kastle Systems.

If you’re planning a return to the workplace for your organization, here’s how you can lead with a People Operations approach — which will help you design a great employee experience, communicate effectively, optimize productivity, and be proactive about improving processes.

Send pulse surveys

Your people are your most valuable asset, so it’s important to make sure they’re heard and engaged with their work. One of the ways to measure this is through pulse surveys, which allow for quick, real-time feedback from your organization.

The pandemic has thrown the world of work into a massive work-from-home experiment, but not everyone thrives with 100% remote work. Before you establish a plan to return to the office, survey your employees about future work preferences. Here are some questions you can ask them:

  • Do you want to work 100% remote, hybrid, or in the office?
  • Why is this your preferred work plan?
  • Rate your workplace options from most preferred to least preferred

The pandemic has made people rethink their preferences when it comes to employment, and the competition for top talent is fierce in this current labor market. People are seeking to work with companies who care about their well-being and development. Instead of using the antiquated mentality of treating employees like cogs in a machine, use the People Ops principle of treating your people as important contributions to your business’s success.

Instead of using the antiquated mentality of treating employees like cogs in a machine, use the People Ops principle of treating your people as important contributions to your business’s success.

Create and implement a strong communication plan

Once you’ve utilized employee feedback to help establish your return-to-work plan, it’s time to communicate it effectively — both internally and externally. Keep these People Ops tips in mind:

Consider what you say

When leading the charge on HR or company communications, think critically about what you’re trying to say. Ensure that there’s zero ambiguity in your message.

Prepare a memo covering topics such as who should come into the office, and when. If you’re planning to implement updates such as staggered shifts, phased reopenings, and workspace changes, make sure to include adequate details about those. Here’s a sample return-to-office memo you can use.

You can also consider creating a blog post for your company website or press release to inform customers, clients, and the community about any workplace updates and return-to-work plans. Emphasize to both employees and your customers that safety remains a priority, no matter what.

Think about how you say it

The words you choose, and how you deliver them, are vital to success in People Operations. They build trust and help maintain a safe and inclusive working environment. When you think critically about your delivery of your message, it can alleviate frustrating situations, help resolve conflicts, and create a foundation for employees to feel safe to provide feedback.

You can use this guidance to frame your communications to staff about returning to the workplace. There’s the saying “you can’t please everyone,” and that may prove true when it comes to your return-to-office plan. Some of your workforce may not be happy with the path forward that you choose, so it’s important to think of how you’ll respond to their concerns in a way that makes them feel heard and valued.

Remember to also be inclusive in your language and delivery. For example, if you plan to have some roles be fully remote and others in person, make sure to stress that this is based on job obligations and employee preferences — and that you’re not discriminating based on age, race, pregnancy, or another demographic factor. Check with your legal department to ensure you are not being discriminatory in your plans and rules.

Be data, technology, and solution driven

One of the key tenets of People Operations is embracing data and technology to optimize employee experience, performance, development, and productivity. As you prepare for your company’s return to the workplace, ensure that you have tools in place to track these areas.

You may have found that the pandemic has impacted workforce productivity, either positively or negatively. Take this time of transition to think about how you want to track productivity in the new world of work. You can set cascading goals — where business objectives are created at the executive level, and then cascade down to different teams and individuals. This goal-setting framework can help align your employees’ work to your company’s overarching goals and ultimate success.

Then you can use collaboration and productivity tools to boost connection among your employees and get closer to reaching organizational goals. There are also project and performance management tools to track goals and project completion and impact. Ensure you find tools that allow you to gather data, which can then help you make informed decisions. If you notice there are employees who are struggling with their performance, you can search for solutions and tools that can help.

Sending employee surveys, as we mentioned earlier, provides an opportunity to uncover areas of concern and need. After gathering feedback, you can then target resolution and development.

If you have teams that want to leverage tools to make their jobs easier — especially if they involve manual tasks — consider their suggestions. Using technology to replace repetitive tasks helps ensure your people feel fulfilled and engaged at work.

Have a proactive, rather than reactive, approach

As you enter into the new world of work with your employees, take on a proactive — rather than reactive — approach. Being only reactive to workplace problems can prevent your business from growing, and it also creates unnecessary risk. Let’s say you have an employee who returns to the workplace and is sick with COVID-like symptoms. With no protocol in place, you may be scrambling to figure out next steps in the situation. That could result in exposing others in your workforce to COVID and making staff feel unsafe.

People Ops is all about being proactive and improving processes even when there’s nothing wrong. Instead of only addressing issues when they occur, look for long-term solutions to eliminate future problems.

Use these People Ops principles to be proactive and prepare for your company’s return to the office. Consider taking the following steps, and find more tips about them in our month-by-month guide:

  • Create a task force
  • Survey your employees
  • Make a plan
  • Decide on your workspace
  • Plan a new work schedule
  • Update technology
  • Review health and in-person and remote work policies
  • Let employees, customers, and the community know about your changes
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