Going back to work – here’s how to do it [2021 Guide]

Haltian coffee mugs and pencil at the table when going back to work

After around fifteen months of purely remote working for knowledge workers, the vaccinations are finally starting to roll in and companies and employees are starting to think about going back to work to their offices.

This guide is built to help you understand what going back to work means and what considerations you need to take care of before returning to the office.

Table of contents:

Return to office raises some questions, such as: will things return to what they were, how people companies attract people back to the office and how companies need to adjust for this?

We will answer all these questions in this guide. 

When to return to the office?

The timeline of going back to work is still quite loose, but the consensus seems to be that we will gradually move into the offices during the autumn of this year. This will be done depending on your location, and it is still important to listen and obey the local authorities’ guidelines on what is recommended in your area. You should also consider things such as employee safety.

Read our list of guidelines which are aimed to ease your decision making on where to return to the office.

What is the new normal?

One thing however is for sure. We won’t go back to working all-day, every-day at the office now that we are accustomed to remote working methods. The easiness and comfort of working from home are attractive to a lot of the workforce and forces companies to rethink their facilities to lure the worker’s back to the office. 

Working life will shift into a hybrid working model, which can be called the new normal. In this way of working the employees are working part-time from the office, and part-time from their own homes. The employees are looking for opportunities in making their own decisions about their work locations, and it’s something the companies should not overlook. 

Consider that going back to work at the office is not a one-person job. It involves everyone in the company and functions such as human resources, IT department and the communications team at least play an important role. These teams together need to make sure the transition is easy for the employees by removing any barriers or friction there might be. 

Plan company-wide guidelines and communicate them. 

Company-wide planning and guidelines for going back to work are essential. The leadership needs to listen to their employees and value their opinions on how they want to continue working in the future. This sets the baseline for creating a company-wide approach to how the work is done in the future.

  • Ensure employee safety: Bear in mind that the employee’s safety should be the top priority when creating this plan.
  • Listen to the employees and middle management to gain insights on how they think and formulate a plan, accordingly, taking in mind the size of your company and the resources available. 
  • Communicating this plan openly to everyone involved plays an important role. For example, having a town hall information session and promoting the ways of working in your company takes the pressure away from the employee, and helps them find their preferred ways of working.

It is also important for the top leadership to keep their own opinions close to their chest to avoid influencing employees’ opinions on adapting to the new normal.

Note that this could take some time, so the way to go is to slowly and steadily enable employees to adjust into going back to work at the office. 

Make sure your company culture stays in place

During the pandemic and this remote working period, your company culture might have slowly faded away. Simply because people have not seen each other in a long time, and you might have had people joining and leaving your company as well. 

The culture in your company is formulated from:

  • Values
  • Beliefs
  • Traditions
  • Structures
  • Unwritten rules
  • Behaviours
  • Repeated moments

Together these make up the employee experience defining company culture.

Define these culture drivers, those strategies that create a shared way of doing things, and then measure your employee experience to get insights on how your employees are feeling about the culture in the company. 

While company culture can be built virtually to some extent, it does not completely replace physically going to the office and being together. There are some difficulties especially with new recruits to get them involved and to get them to create critical relationships at work when done remotely. 

Research has shown that individuals who work fully remotely (even voluntarily) are more disconnected and cannot fully agree that they know what their company stands for. It is the manager’s task to get them to be part of the company from day one, whether that is done virtually or in person. If it’s not done, it can weaken the company culture and make the new recruits more eager to leave soon. 

Shifting into hybrid work has significant benefits to company culture and therefore, we believe it is important to have some physical connection with your peers in the workforce. And not least because that is what they might be missing the most.

What are people missing?

While there are a lot of benefits to working from home, there is one thing people are missing the most: The human connection at the office.

Human connection is the experience of feeling connected to others. It’s based around the feeling of understanding and hearing each other, which can be difficult with purely virtual working.

It’s something that we were used to and might have taken for granted as we rapidly shifted into home offices.

In this article I discuss how you can revitalize these connections with going back to work to the office, at least part time.

What common issues there are when going back to work?

In addition to missing other people and the human connection at the office, we have identified a few other practical issues when going back to work at the office. These issues include:

  • Changing guidelines from your local authorities making the planning of the return difficult
  • Who can go to the office first?
  • And how to make sure everybody stays healthy at the office?

Read our listicle of common workplace issues in going back to the office to learn more.

Do we have too much space in our office?

The question of having too much space at the office that might rise if you adopt the hybrid working model and at least some of your workforce is working remotely. To answer this question, it’s best to gather data and insights about your current space usage. Consider gathering knowledge such as occupancy rates in the office and the opinions and wishes of your employees.

We have created a 15 question list that you can use to validate your office space reduction needs:

Can you reduce office space? Validate with 15 questions - Haltian

Can you reduce office space? Validate with 15 questions

Validate with 15 questions if you can reduce office space and if you have enough data to define how much. Can you answer all of them?

Learn more

Can technology help in returning to the office?

In short, yes it can. A variety of workplace technologies, such as digital twins can help you return to the office. These digital twins are a digital replica of your office (building), containing information such as vacancy of meeting rooms, cleaning status of bathrooms and visualizing people flow to reduce unwanted social contacts.

Read more about the variety of digital twins, and what we think is the best solution in the current climate.

What benefits a digital workplace offers?

As you can see, the working culture is going through a massive change, and faster than we all could have imagined. Employees want more flexibility and easiness as the technological advancements have been huge in the last 15-18 months. Creating a digital workplace strategy enables your company to future-proof the working style in this digital era.

Final thoughts

Going back to work at the office is not going to be an easy task, for numerous of reasons. Your company should create a strategy detailing the future of work in your company. The strategy must be a leadership driven, well communicated plan which includes opinions and wishes from your employees.

Combining the cultural change happening in the working world with new, rising technologies helps your company to find your own way of working in the future, ensuring your competitiveness in your own field.