As states gradually reopen, organizations have begun to formulate their plans on how they will safely welcome employees back to the office during the pandemic.
While many companies are just considering the basic logistics of returning to work, others are reevaluating the meaning of work and rethinking basic assumptions.
But even after workers eventually return to the office, it doesn't mean we should reverse the progress companies have made in supporting remote, global workforces. Instead, organizations should work to combine the best of both their physical and virtual workplaces by getting started with the following.
1. Instill transparent, two-way communication
According to Henry Albrecht, CEO of employee-experience company Limeade, the current pandemic has created a more candid and transparent approach to communication and culture. Actively listening to staff, keeping a pulse on employee sentiment, and embracing the human side of work -- these are all things leaders should fear losing.
Before moving into details and logistics, like spacing apart desks or implementing temperature screenings, employers should pause to reflect on what they've learned over the past few months.
"Be intentional with communications. Ask employees what they liked and disliked about working remotely, ask what they need to thrive when they return and monitor how perceptions change over time," said Albrecht.
"At Limeade, we are polling all employees to understand how and where people can do their best work. We don't expect to go back to the way things were. Empathy and action will drive higher levels of employee engagement and will ultimately lead to better business performance."
To Albrecht's point, people cannot un-see or un-feel what they just went through in a crisis. It's important for workers to carry their exposed humanness into the future together.
2. Maintain culture and preserve community
Jennie Knowles, head of HR at sending platform Sendoso, believes community should be maintained regardless of whether employees are working in the office, remotely or a combination of both.
"You can always start with activities that everyone can experience regardless of location: host virtual happy hours or cooking classes, send them treats and supplies and other gifts," says Knowles.
"At Sendoso, we like to balance physical and mental activities. Our team members can attend virtual workouts in the morning or trivia sessions -- like Disney trivia with family on Wednesdays -- in the afternoon."
Fun activities that are social in nature, such as virtual happy hours and trivia, aren't the only way to bring employees together. Knowles says intentional efforts to spark reflection and deeper conversations are also valuable.
"We like activities that make us stronger as an organization together, such as reading books for professional and personal growth. One month we might read about a new sales strategy, then the next we'll read about diversity and inclusion. In this way, we learn together, have conversations, and grow as a team."
3. Lead with empathy
According to Shane Metcalf, chief culture officer at performance management platform 15Five, In every situation -- remote or in-office -- "it's crucial for leaders to show empathy, care and concern for the emotional well-being of everyone at the company and bake these competencies into training to develop amazing managers," shares Metcalf.
Leaders have done a good job of exhibiting empathy when working remotely, but need to remember to check in on their employees as they go back to the office.
Some remote practices are worth keeping in place. "It's important for leaders to get clear about what they like about their remote workforce but also to understand what the organization likes about remote work," says Metcalf.
Leaders need to determine what their employees like about working remotely and what they like about the office. "Start by making a list of the 20 things that are better in this new world of work. Then take a poll; ask your people, your team, and your leadership team about what they think is working better as a remote team. Collect as many specific examples of practices, mindsets, and processes that are better for both the company and its people," Metcalf suggests.
When workforces return to the office, it will look drastically different from it was before the pandemic set in. Companies that can blend the best of both worlds and incorporate remote work practices into the office experience will be better equipped to support their employees for the new normal.