7 Ways to prepare remote teams for returning to the office

A quick summary:

After more than two years of uncertainty, offices across the UK are set to reopen, as the work-from-home advice ends on Thursday 27th January 2022. Now, more than ever, leadership teams will need to spring into action, if they are to reintroduce employees to the office effectively.  

As we speak, HR departments and leadership teams across the UK are diverging plans to bring remote teams back into the office - with many unprepared and inexperienced with what lies ahead. Unfortunately, the pandemic has been the root course for a lot of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Some of which have affected our daily lives, both in and outside the workplace.

For this reason, returning to an office environment won’t come without its struggles for millions of remote workers across the country. How leadership teams react to this challenge and approach mental health in the workplace, will determine the level of success or pushback when reintroducing the office.

This isn’t the first time staff have returned to the office, however, as many companies have already experienced a disheartened workforce return to their desks, along with newfound presenteeism. 

Many managers feel they’ve done their best, but there’s often 1 piece missing from the puzzle - and that is empathy. People want to feel their emotions are understood, and that their best interests are acknowledged. 

According to this TechRadar article in early October 2021, 76% of workers do not want to return to the office full-time. So, the struggle of bringing staff back into the office comes as no surprise. 

In the hope of helping leaders better prepare for the enormous pushback they may see from their teams, we’ve put together 7 ways to effectively return remote workers to the office. 

What’s playing on their minds? 

Drilling down on exactly how your remote team feels about returning to the office is the perfect place to start - because without this understanding, leaders can’t make informed decisions. Going into this blindly, means deciding on something that may hinder job satisfaction and send companies into a staff turnover frenzy. 

With the right questions however, this is avoidable, and presents leaders with a much clear picture to draw up an action plan. The kind of questions you should ask your remote team, will differ depending on circumstance, but here are some to think about: 

  • Have you experienced any stress or anxiety about returning to the office?
  • Has the pandemic had an impact on your overall mental health?
  • Do you think returning to the office would affect job satisfaction? 
  • Has the idea of returning to the office negatively affected your sleep?

Ultimately, as leaders, we can’t make decisions on things we don’t know. Every management team knows bad decisions have consequences, so gather the answers to move forward confidently. 

Make your plan of action clear

As the old saying goes “communication is key” and that’s no different when making your intentions clear to your remote team. There’s nothing worse than experiencing heightened anxiety and stress, and also being unsure of what to expect. Well, this is exactly how some remote workers feel about returning to the office.

Instead of simply telling remote teams about the sudden return to the office, keep each of your team in the loop with the latest updates and plan of action. Better yet, let them suggest ideas.

After all, this is a leader's best shot at bringing everyone back into the office comfortably and effectively without any damage to daily business.

What’s more, remote workers need to feel like every safety measure has been considered before they return. That’s because if it isn’t the anxiety or stress of office life, it’s likely a fear around the pandemic itself. Don’t be afraid to over-communicate your plan of action, take team members through every step of the way. 

Give your team a voice

Believe it or not, around 34% of employees worldwide feel their employers do not listen to their ideas for improving the business. Coupled with a pandemic, it’s probable that remote teams feel even less heard about their ideas or suggestions for working arrangements. 

Giving remote teams a voice in the decision-making process will see better outcomes when returning to the office. Why? Because the plan has been formulated by everyone. What’s more, this collaboration reveals exactly what your remote team wants, without having to ask a single question. 

Whether it’s in or outside the workplace, people want to be heard, and more often than not, it’s the ideas that go ignored that can really make a difference. Leaders need to listen, and make the plan of action for returning to the office a team-wide project. Here’s exactly how to do this:

  1. Make a decision and add it to your plan of action for returning to the office.
  2. Send your ideas to the wider team for approval or suggestions.
  3. Respond to your team members expressing an interest or explaining why their ideas aren’t suitable.
  4. Rework your plan of action to accommodate the best-interests of your employees.

So, give your team a voice, let them express their ideas, and genuinely take them onboard. It may be the difference between a successful return to the office, or failure.

Understand everyone is different 

While everyone may be considered an ‘employee’ they are all unique, with their own set of fears and anxieties. For this reason, if leaders are to see a successful return to the office, everyone’s thoughts and feelings must be considered. 

It’s likely not all remote workers share the same enthusiasm for returning to the office, and that’s okay. However, this understanding gives leaders the appropriate angle to take when discussing the best route for return, on an individual basis. 

The shocking reality is that even the most sociable of employees may experience worry around returning to the office. In some cases, the best option is to listen to each member of staff and work out an ideal strategy for getting them back to their desks. 

For some, it may take longer than others, but to return an entire workforce all at once, without questioning how each and every employee feels, will likely see absenteeism and presenteeism skyrocket. It’s very easy for people to make assumptions based on their own ideas and experience, but this can be a car-crash way of thinking, because everyone is different. 

Create an open environment for mental health discussion

There’s often a sense of ignorance around mental health and personal issues in the workplace. And while this has begun to improve over the years, we’re still not quite there yet. With offices opening back up, leaders must build an open environment, and one that embraces difficult discussion such as mental health. 

Just think, of the 32.5M lost working days in 2020/21 due to work-related ill health, how many could have been avoided, if employers encouraged openness?

To create this kind of environment, leadership teams should be proactive in their approach to employee emotions. It should be made a daily or weekly task of checking in with team members to understand how they feel about returning to the office. 

For employees who suffer in silence, businesses will also suffer due to poor performance, lacking productivity and higher rates of presentism.

Be flexible with the transition

Choosing a date for everyone to return on, simply won’t work for many businesses. Even for those that it does, most employees will feel a sense of dread and anxiety. The better option is to create a flexible and gradual transition, this way, remote teams get a feel for office life, and it doesn’t hit them all at once. 

One way to accomplish this is to have a hybrid working model to begin with, which eventually becomes a permanent return to the office. What’s more, leaders should judge each employee on an individual basis. After a few weeks of a phased/flexible return, it may be a good idea to survey your remote team. This will show leadership teams exactly who is struggling with the return to the office. 

While this may be a lengthy process of transition, it is a great way to diminish any damage to employee morale, job satisfaction and daily business. 

Consider a hybrid working model

If the prospect of returning to the office permanently is horrifying for both teams and leadership, and business performance continues to thrive remotely, it might be a sign. After all, as they say “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”

A hybrid working model allows for a much easier transition or gives employees the best of both working arrangements, remote and office based. If your workforce has shown a great amount of negativity or pushback around returning to the office, this might be your answer. 

Not only does this make the transition of office work easier for employees, but it can also have a direct impact on retention. According to iNews.co.uk, a third of millennials say they would quit their job if their employees told them they had to return to the office full-time.

With more and more companies opting for remote or hybrid work, it’s becoming increasingly common for employees to expect some form of flexible working arrangements. So, if your team is just as productive as they are in the office, maybe it’s worth keeping it that way?

Heka supports employee wellbeing for both remote and office based teams

With Heka, both remote and office-based teams are taking control of their wellbeing and improving their mental and physical health. 

What we’ve learnt from the above, is the transition from remote work to the office can be a hurdle in itself, so much more needs to be done to protect employee wellbeing - especially in these challenging times. 

With Heka, users have full access to  more than a thousand wellbeing services, products and experiences. All carefully curated for each user experience by learning from the choices that are made. For example, if Heka notices one user wants to better their financial wellbeing, it will begin suggesting new experiences available through the wellbeing platform.

So, whether it’s life coaching, vitamin supplements, meal delivery services, yoga mats, financial coach or more, Heka may be the platform your team needs for a healthier, happier business. 

Book a demo with one of our wellbeing experts today!

Download our return to the office survey

We recently released our return to the office survey, designed to help you carry out the most effective return to the office for your team.

Times have been hard over the last couple of years, and a lot of people have struggled with their health and wellbeing.

That's why our return to the office survey provides leaders with 15 carefully structured questions around employee wellbeing, general health and happiness and thoughts on company culture.

With this insight, we've also included five pages of actionable guidance on how to tackle problems your employees are facing.

We wish you and your team the best on your return to the office!

From our team to yours.