With nearly half of Americans now fully vaccinated, companies are pushing for a return to business as usual. Offices are slowly reopening, and freeways across the country are once again clogging with commuters. While some businesses are opting to stay remote indefinitely, many are calling workers back.
If your team is returning to the office soon, you need to make a plan. Some of your team members won’t be thrilled about giving up the flexibility of WFH life. And even workers who are enthusiastic about returning to the office may struggle to make that transition. Here are five steps you can take for a more seamless and productive return:
1.Set an agenda for all meetings.
As employees return to the office, you should expect some extra excitement and disorder. Your whole team hasn’t been in the same room for a while, and they’ll be anxious to socialize. This is bound to lead to lots of chitchat and meetings that are generally less focused. Creating a meeting agenda is key to keeping your team on task.
At a minimum, your meeting agenda should include a list of talking points and action items. You can also note who is responsible for leading each area of discussion. For larger meetings, noting how much time is allotted for each part of the discussion will keep things moving along. Send out your meeting agenda in advance so participants can prepare.
2.Offer employees flexibility around synchronous office hours.
Remote work doesn’t work for everyone, but employees still appreciate the freedom and flexibility to set their own hours. Research shows that employees are happier when they have flexibility at work, and happiness makes people 12 percent more productive.
During lockdown, many became accustomed to completing their work when they were at their best. They could start work early when they were feeling fresh or catch a workout when their focus began to wane. This freedom also allowed for better work-life balance, which helps prevent burnout among workers.
Of course, it can be hard to get anything done in a completely asynchronous work environment. This is why some employers set specific windows when employees are expected to be in the office. Throughout the rest of the workday, employees are free to come and go as they please. As your team transitions away from remote work, you might consider offering a more flexible schedule.
3.Hit the reset button on email and instant messaging.
Even before lockdown, workers were spending a large portion of the workday glued to their inboxes. When teams went remote, dealing with the constant stream of emails and messages became even more onerous. Thirty percent of workers cite emails and Slack messages from co-workers as their No. 1 distraction. (More than a fifth say that the volume of email they receive makes them want to quit their jobs.)
With workers heading back to the office, consider using this transition to reset office culture around email and instant messaging. It’s often much faster to work things out face-to-face than in writing. A 10-minute daily huddle can help get everyone on the same page and avoid time wasted in the inbox.
Another way to shift the culture away from email is to carve out time for deep work. You can do this by establishing an hour each day for your team to “go dark.” Alternatively, you can encourage employees to turn on Slack’s “Do Not Disturb” feature when they need to concentrate.
4.Stock the break room with healthy refreshments.
Everyone knows it can be hard to concentrate when you’re hungry — even harder when your stomach starts growling in a meeting. One unexpected perk of WFH life was easy access to the kitchen. Workers didn’t have to subsist on bad break-room coffee and stale donuts or leave the office to grab fast food. They could reach for a healthy snack or make a meal whenever they felt hungry.
Keeping workers well-fed and hydrated probably isn’t something you’ve ever thought about, but it plays a major role in productivity. Sugar and caffeine may feel like a panacea for the three o’clock crash, but they only provide a short-lived boost. Drinking plenty of water and reaching for healthy snacks is more likely to keep your employees working at peak performance.
As you plan for your return to the office, consider stocking the break room with healthy snacks. Or, if budget allows, try catering lunch once or twice a week. When choosing snacks, look for quality sources of protein like nuts, seeds, yogurt, and string cheese. Fruits, veggies, and snacks containing complex carbohydrates are also a great choice. Finally, forgo the soda and energy drinks, and stock the fridge with bottled water, tea, and beverages containing electrolytes.
5. Encourage exercise and movement.
We all know that a sedentary lifestyle is bad for our health. Declarations like “sitting is the new smoking” are enough to make us all want to move more throughout the day. But movement isn’t just good for our health. Study after study has found that workers who exercise are more productive. Even just walking for 30 minutes over lunch makes people more alert.
Unfortunately, your team members’ daily workout may be the first thing to go when they return to the office. Time normally spent exercising might be eaten up by workers’ daily commute. The pressure of being back in the office can also make them push their fitness routine to the back burner. They might find it’s not as easy to slip away for a run. Or they might feel guilty for cutting out a little early to make it to the gym.
As a leader, you can take steps to help curb this unhealthy backslide. The most effective thing you can do is to lead by example. Make it a point to leave at the same time each day, and announce that you’re headed to the gym. Or carve out time on your calendar for a mid-afternoon workout four times per week.
If budget allows, you might consider converting an unused conference room to a workout area. You could organize an office-wide fun run, start a walking group, or offer lunchtime yoga. You can even pay for employee gym memberships as an added perk.
The return to the office might be met with dread or excitement, but it’s sure to shake up employees’ routines. Anytime workers face a major upheaval, their productivity is bound to suffer. As a leader, your job is to take steps to make the transition more seamless. By staying organized, improving communication, and promoting healthy habits, you can keep workers focused and energized.