BACK TO THE FUTURE: Issues with Returning to Work Post-Lockdown

By Jacob Hoekstra – Global CEO Kilpatrick 

As governments relax stay-at-home restrictions, organizations are starting to prepare and welcome their employees back into the office in a variety of ways to ensure that when they return, workplaces are both productive and safe. Indeed, we are seeing some large corporations still embracing the virtual world for the next months, others will maintain/adopt a mixed formula with added flexibility and of course there will be some who will go back to their original ways.

So, how can you effectively lead your workforce through the pandemic, the aftermath and its daily challenges while providing the employees with security, stability and confidence? As an employer, I have put together some considerations for an effective and safe return to work.

The key phrase is “back to the future”. We should not be thinking of going back to the office and back to being what we were and doing what we did. A mindset shift is needed. Inevitably, in fact, we will find a different, changed community. In some cases the changes will be few but substantial, in other cases on the contrary, there will be many and will require enormous “adaptability” from the worker. 

There are not guarantees nor there will be. The situation will be increasingly uncertain and the long-term planning of 2-5 years window that we were used to will be reduced to a 3-6 months window.

Baring these premises in mind, communication has never been more important. Employee engagement relies heavily on the ability of a company to communicate with clarity and transparency as it gives them a sense of reassurance and confidence that their safety and careers are in good hands. 

Furthermore, safeguarding employee’s mental health and wellbeing is paramount. Indeed, awareness of mental health and wellbeing in the workplace has accelerated as a result of the pandemic. Everyone has different circumstances and worries with the current situation. 

Some workers may be reluctant to return to the office while others may be eager to leave remote work in the past. As an employer, the challenge is to lead with empathy and be mindful about these circumstances in order to easily manage the transition while providing the appropriate solutions that satisfy the needs of the employees and the company.

However, it is necessary to redefine the concept of Smart Working (not too smart!) and to manage the expectations of the collaborators. It is clearly very well appreciated as shown in our poll, but we cannot deny that it is also necessary to re-enter in some way in the company logic and restart the off-line office dynamics. 

Surely at this moment there are fears related to the pandemic and to the uncertainty of finding out a different world from the one we knew. The people most at risk are those with little ability to adapt to change who end up preferring life at home, with all the limitations, rather than facing the outside world. In short, the right measure allows the individual not to alienate himself and to maintain the professional confrontation that stimulates everyone’s growth.

As mentioned before, the return to the workplace needs to be both, safe and productive. Indeed, the greatest challenge that will be required of people is the management of efficiency. More and more weight will be given to individual performance and advanced work organization systems and new tools, including digital ones, will be needed to measure and reward results.

Before the pandemic, the conventional wisdom had been that offices were critical to productivity. We see now how quickly and effectively technologies and other forms of digital collaboration were adopted with unexpected awesome results in many cases (see graphic below).

Without a doubt, my advice is to react and take the positive from what we are forcibly living, to stop complaining and to blame the pandemic for every mistake when in reality management errors and inefficiencies may have been made regardless the health emergency.