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The one thing businesses can do to make the return to work a success

The one thing businesses can do to make the return to work a success

For over a year now, HR teams have been in the spotlight. We’ve navigated a big shift in the way our people work, including many policy changes and health and wellbeing initiatives to support them through the pandemic.

Despite all our efforts, the on-going uncertainty may cause some employees to feel less connected, less engaged. After all, few of us have made it through the pandemic without significant disruption to our home and working lives.

That’s why it’s so important to get the final steps — with all their promise of a return to ‘normality’ — right.

With the Government pushing back its roadmap, planning ahead remains difficult. On the plus side, this extra time gives us more opportunity to reflect on our ways of working and create a workplace that lets our people be at their best.

There’s one thing we really need to do to make this happen — to make the return a success — and that’s to listen.

While uncertainty is a given, open two-way communication can help lessen its impact. By listening to employees and taking their opinions on board, we can shape our workplaces into spaces that suit our people, improving wellbeing and morale.

The Government’s reopening motto has been ‘data not dates’, and this idea can be applied to a business’s own return to work strategy. Gathering honest employee feedback helps us be confident in our decisions and ensures our plans move forward at a pace that suits the whole organisation.

In terms of what the new normal might look like, our Future of Work report gives us all a head start. Around half the workforce (51%) is anxious about going into work, so wellbeing support will continue to be vital.

The most-requested initiatives were flexible working options, mental health support, policies to support wellbeing and fast access to healthcare. While this insight is a good starting point, businesses really thrive when leaders and HR teams get to the heart of what their people need.

There are many ways to go about this. Reaching out to managers is always a helpful way to get insight into how teams are thinking. Now is also a good time to gather feedback from specific groups. Homeworkers, those going into work and those on furlough will likely have their own unique worries and expectations.

It can be difficult, but we must listen to our people and act on what they say, even if it isn’t what we were hoping to hear. With employees split across different styles of working, it’s even more important that they feel comfortable communicating their needs and worries to decision-makers.

We use data from our pulse survey to gather an overview of how things stand, but it is the conversations and qualitative feedback that really help us understand employee feelings and motivations — the story behind the data.

The ‘right way’ to handle the return to work will be different for each business. It will depend on all kinds of factors: company size, location, working style and culture. And as we’ve come to expect, our approach will likely change, and change again, as time goes on. To prepare for this, leaders can set out the broad principles of their new working policies but leave room for individual flexibility too.

By taking employee feedback on board, we can be confident that our decisions are in their best interests. And if their views change, we’ll be able to adapt and let their feedback guide us again.

When we build a culture of open conversation, we have the chance to reach out, listen and create a ‘new normal’ that works for our business and our people alike.

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