he pandemic has certainly put employers and HR leaders in a tricky situation. Now that vaccination rates are rising and it’s safer to come back into the office, the natural move is to bring employees back to the workplace. However, now that they’ve gotten used to remote work from home life, that might not be an easy endeavor.

There might be employees that can’t wait to get back to their pre-pandemic routine. But there are also those that enjoy the freedom and flexibility that comes with working from home, and they might be reluctant to integrate back into office life. This brings us to our first question for HR teams.

Should you bring workers back to the office?

The simple answer is: it depends. As an HR leader, it’s important to read the room. Many employers are opting for a hybrid model, preparing for some employees to come back into the office while supporting remote work from home for others.

Trish McFarlane, the CEO and principal consultant of H3 HR Advisors stated, “Taking employee feelings about safety into account is paramount. HR leaders need to use technology to survey, poll, or otherwise gather employee opinion on how comfortable and secure they feel.”

There are definitely employees that have site-dependent roles that need to be in the office or other places. But those that work just as productively from home might not be comfortable with a mandate that forces them to come back into the office. Especially with COVID-19 still a threat and other dangerous variants spreading, immunocompromised employees and those that live with vulnerable family members might resist.

Laurie Ruettemimann, an HR leader and prominent author, said that “It's really incumbent upon employers to be flexible to still operate with compassion and empathy like it's 2020.”

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How do employees feel about returning to work?

After being away so long, for employees, coming back to work is somewhat like returning to school after a long summer vacation. They know the environment will be different, but there will also be some familiar faces and a few new ones. Indeed surveyed employees that were working from home due to COVID-19 to learn how they feel about the transition. Here are the results:

  • 51% had positive feelings about returning to the office
  • 31% were uncertain what to expect when they return
  • 27% felt happy and 26% felt hopeful to return
  • 25% said they were nervous to return
  • 24% said they were completely uninterested in returning
  • 71% are concerned with health risks associated with COVID-19

If there’s one thing we can deduce from these numbers, it’s that the majority of workers are positive about returning but they’re still concerned about COVID-19. Employers and HR leaders can help alleviate these concerns by putting policies in place that make the office safer. Establishing desk distancing and mask guidelines could help put employees’ minds at ease.

However, you still have nearly a quarter of employees that are entirely uninterested in returning to the office. By forcing these employees to return, their engagement and morale may decline, impacting their quality of work, or they may look for other job opportunities altogether.

Employees now have more leverage

Employees are starting to have significantly more leverage in the entire process, from recruitment to retention. Many employers find themselves paying more for talent, offering more training and education opportunities, and sometimes even forced to take chances on workers with lower qualifications. But the major change is that more and more employers are offering greater flexibility in remote work from home.

An April survey of HR leaders from larger organizations by the Conference Board found that 49% of organizations found it hard to retain workers, up from 30% pre-COVID-19. It’s becoming harder for employees to find and keep quality employees. The survey further states that, “80% of organizations with mostly industry and manual service workers say it is very or somewhat difficult to find qualified industry and manual service workers.” Quality workers are in short supply, and the demand is high.

One way companies can improve retention rates is offering benefits like remote work. A May survey of 1,000 U.S. adults showed that 39% would consider quitting if their employers weren’t flexible about working from home. Employees got a taste of remote work and want to continue or go back to it.

According to another survey of employees from major companies like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, 64% said they’d rather remote work from home than receive a $30,000 pay raise. That number was above 70% for professionals that work at Airbnb, Lyft, and Twitter. Of the 45 organizations’ surveyed, only two companies had the majority of their employees choose the $30,000 over remote work from home.

Now we have employees with more leverage, more companies offering remote work from home, and the employees that prefer to work from home. That can only mean one thing for employers and HR leaders: remote work is here to stay, and organizations need to be thoughtful about where their employees work.

The hybrid work option

The traditional nine-to-five is most likely gone for good. That’s not to say there won’t be employees in the office working those hours anymore. The hybrid model means there will be those that come to the office during the week, some that come in on certain days, and those that work permanently from home or remotely.

For HR leaders, this means they can now expand their search and recruitment. They’re no longer limited by geography. Improved communication and task management tools have allowed employers to hire the most qualified workers from anywhere. Furthermore, with virtual onboarding, HR can ensure new hires are just as productive and engaged as employees in the office.

To keep every employee engaged and involved, HR can involve people by sending out newsletters, bulletins, new initiatives, and company matters. This can keep workers on the same page and get them excited about their work.

Use tools that engage workers

Task management solutions like MetaSpark automatically reward employees for completing tasks on time. As employees complete tasks, they receive points, which eventually add up to large rewards that they can choose from. Your employees, no matter where they work from, will be able to receive gift cards or donate to their favorite charities every time they complete a certain amount of tasks. This is a great way to recognize their achievement and reward them for it.

MetaSpark helps your hybrid workforce by automatically bringing every app and program into one dashboard without any data entry. AI then analyzes everyone's tasks in MetaSpark to deliver deep insights into people’s work.

Are you interested in helping your organization become more productive while employees work both in the office and remotely?

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