Back to the office – how to make the transition smooth

| December 10, 2020

As workers head back into the office following months of working from home, don’t expect things to go back to normal.

Business Australia Chief Customer Experience Officer Richard Spencer says business is never going to go back to pre-pandemic ‘normal’.

“In response to COVID-19 lockdowns businesses had to pivot to remote operations almost overnight, now we can’t expect staff to return with that same speed,” says Mr Spencer.

“Very few businesses were able to plan their way into the pandemic, but they can all plan their way out,” he adds.

“Naturally there will be a period of transition and those that go slowly will manage this best.

“For some, there is nervous excitement about getting back to the office, for others it will be more of a longer transition.

“It’s important to be aware of office sentiment and consider how individuals are feeling with the change.

“If business owners or management just snap back to ‘normal’ ways, or how things were pre-COVID, it may be met with resistance.

“It’s a good opportunity to see if things can be done better for the interests of both the business and staff.

“We’re advising our members to keep in mind that everyone has been through a turbulent time and this is an opportunity to reflect on what we have learnt, listen to the team and see what can be re-organised.”

Business Australia offers three tips to make the transition back to the office smooth and productive:

  1. Hybrid model of work: Hybrid businesses environments focus on structure and sociability while also emphasising independence and flexibility. This type of practice will keep the majority of staff feeling empowered, loyal and productive at work. Research is also showing that most Australians workers want to return to their physical office, but the preference for up to 60 per cent is that they’d like to split their working time between home and office, according to a recent Boston Consulting Group study.

  2. Bottom-up, not top-down: We need to trust our teams that they can make the transition back to the physical workplace work. Employers and business owners will do well if they are understanding of their employees’ circumstances. COVID-19 has affected a lot of people and many are exhausted, particularly as we approach the end of the year. There is also a lot of anxiety around the economy and job security, so this needs to be taken into account.

  3. Plan B: While the Australian economy is opening up again quickly, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be new issues arising along the way. Until the vaccine is widely available it’s worth having a back-up plan in place should the business experience a crisis. For example, that might mean setting up separate teams when employees return to work, this will help manage control if there is an outbreak and one team needs to be quarantined, in that case the other team will be able to keep the business running.

“No doubt employees will have had the sense that they have done a great job at home over these last few months – often they might have had to juggle kids at home or put in extra hours working late or catching up on tasks over the weekend,” Mr Spencer said.

“It’s really important to recognise this dedication – thank your team for their hard work and support during difficult times,” he says.

“There may be expectations for managers to be accommodating and understanding. The first few weeks might be fine as there will be a bit of energy and excitement, but keep in mind this may well change over time.”

“This is the optimum time to make plans for how the business will emerge from COVID and re-define itself through 2021.”