When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, employees and employers alike had to deal with a rapid change to a remote working style. For some, it turned out to be a welcome move, while others battled to establish a work/life balance or to overcome the loneliness of working on their own. Now, as people return to the office, at least for some of the time, what are the challenges they face and how should they approach them?
List the benefits of returning to work
Over the past few years, we have been told a great deal about the benefits of remote working. Now that we are returning to work, it’s a good technique to take the time to list the benefits inherent in this move. These include creating a physical distance between work and home for a better work/life balance, and the chance to reconnect with team members and other colleagues. There’s a certain energy in interacting with people in the flesh, and we should put effort into re-establishing old and forming new relationships with colleagues.
Oh, and take the time to get to know new colleagues who may have had the unsettling experience of onboarding virtually.
Take responsibility for your mental health and wellbeing
For many people, some level of fear was a constant over the past few years, and that is likely to be exacerbated as they return to the workplace. According to one study, 42% of workers are anxious about returning to the office, with a majority (74%) saying employers should increase their focus on staff wellbeing at this time.1
The old adage 'A healthy mind in a healthy body' is very true – use the return to work as a wake-up call to take stock of your general wellness. Many companies such as MiWay already have existing wellness programmes such as on-site gym facilities, on-site clinics, running clubs and EAP (employee assistance programmes). Take advantage of it or ask for help from your HR department.
Capitalise on your WFH learnings
Many people found that working from home (WFH) increased their productivity, in part due to new routines, technologies and work hacks they developed. Write them down before you forget them, and then work out which ones you would like to transfer to the workplace. Better time management is likely to be one habit you should not lose along with a clearer understanding of what work rhythm works best for you.
One of the benefits of returning to the office is the opportunity to work in person with your colleagues, as noted above. Make sure it is beneficial by being intentional about it – schedule coffee or lunch meetings with colleagues to share thoughts and set the scene for better collaboration.
Any change brings positives and negatives with it. Use these common-sense guidelines to ensure that the positive outweighs the negative as you return to the office.
What employers could be doing
In parallel, employers will (or should) be putting programmes in place to assist employees to make the transition effective and pleasant. Much of what they will be doing will be the obverse of the guidelines suggested above – for example, actively promoting reconnection between colleagues, asking people to share tips from their WFH experience and so on.
At a deeper level, smart companies will be looking for ways to revitalise employees’ connection with their brands and corporate ethos. One of the challenges of WFH is that the corporate culture, it took so much time to develop and promote, can easily be diluted. It’s vital to nurture this reconnection as part of the process of positioning the return to work as a positive move.
For example, MiWay is taking this aspect of the complex return-to-work dynamic very seriously. Two initiatives are being used to embody the 'heart' theme that is so central to its culture and what they value in their employees. One is Service Heroes, which awards those who go the extra mile in delighting clients and colleagues. Winners receive a generous cash prize, which is particularly valued in these tough times, while everybody gets a little dose of inspiration, along with welcome confirmation that insurance is not ultimately just a numbers game.
The other programme is Extraordinary Ideas, aimed at leveraging employees’ innate creativity. Because they work on the frontline, they know what the problems are, and they often have nifty solutions. Everybody benefits from the solutions, and everybody feels that their expertise and insights can be turned into reality.
Both initiatives help employees get back into 'team mode' and reinforce their customer-centricity and going out of their way for each other. Of course, each company will come up with its own initiatives based on its unique corporate culture. The real point here is that both employees and employers need to give some thought to how to make the return to work a positive experience for the individual and the company alike.MiWay is a licensed non-life insurer and Financial Services Provider (FSP 33970).
1Dom Murray, 'How to deal with returning to the office', Go1 (14 October 2021), available at https://www.go1.com/blog/post-how-to-deal-with-returning-to-the-office