Creating a return to work culture

Liz Beck outlines the key areas businesses need to focus on as they start to welcome employees back into the workplace

Creating a return to work culture

As organisations continue to navigate the impact of Covid-19 and the prime minister increasingly passes the baton back to employers, there are three areas employers should focus on when encouraging people back to work.

One size won’t fit all

It seems obvious but people are all different. They live their lives differently. Their priorities and motivators vary; their needs and circumstances vary. Their ability to be flexible and manage multiple commitments vary. The same is true for organisations. Some environments can be incredibly flexible and offer ‘location freedom’ for work. Others don’t have the range of choice; perhaps they are public facing or manufacturing environments where key opening times are critical, or a production line that won’t run without the team on the premises.

The news is full of references to the ‘new normal’, but the reality is there will be many versions of ‘normal’. Employers and their teams will do well where they engage closely with each other – identifying common ground and finding approaches that enable people to deliver the value needed of them, in ways that can also work for their physical and mental health and safety, their family responsibilities and their personal life choices.

Coming through a pandemic won’t be a case of ‘just turn back up to work’. There are childcare restrictions, caring responsibilities, increased health concerns and a newly found certainty that work can be different now.

This is a time for co-creation between employers and employees. Not everything will be possible in every environment, or for every staff member. But looking at the objectives and parameters for both parties will go a long way to crafting solutions together.

This is a cultural issue and a leadership choice

It would be easy to say no to requests for flexible working and home working. Particularly if it involves effort to change fixed thinking, processes and practices. There was once an era where personal life choices were of no concern to the employer; where the work had to be done and the location, hours and measurables were all set by the business in exchange for a wage or remuneration package. While this thinking still exists in some organisations, and the practicalities may be necessary in some environments, the days of ‘we have no choice’ are over.

Employees and employers have just discovered what is possible. This has been an unexpected global pilot and now the data is available to review. Where are the opportunities, savings, efficiencies? Where did things not work so well, get duplicated, take longer, cost more? And with this new insight, what do we choose to change?

The issue is no longer about what could be possible. That has been tested. The issue is now about choices – the choices leaders make and how flexible they are willing and able to be.

Talent will remember Covid-19

No one is going to forget 2020 in a hurry. It will also be the year that organisations are remembered for – particularly how they handled the impact of coronavirus and how they treated their employees.

We’ve seen businesses reduce salaries, enforce holiday, ask people to take unpaid leave and even make redundancies. In most cases, employees have understood why. In many cases, they have expressed empathy for the tough choices leaders are making. But there are also bad stories. Stories where payments haven’t been made, where communication has been non-existent, where jobs have been cut without explanation. It is these organisations and their leaders who should take heed. Great talent is a precious thing and great talent will remember organisations that behaved decently and with integrity, and those that didn’t – and they will make their own choices about who they work for in the years ahead. 

Liz Beck is MD and leadership coach at AspiringHR