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Workplace
Preparing for the Transition Back to Office Life
Workplace

Preparing for the Transition Back to Office Life

by Margaret Carlson and Chris Musser

Story Highlights

  • Leaders and managers must begin with a people-first approach
  • Continue encouraging deeply personal work cultures when back in the office
  • Offer freedom and flexibility to employees whenever possible

COVID-19 will forever transform the psychology of American workplaces.

Gallup Panel findings from late May indicate 30% of U.S. adults think the disruptions caused by COVID-19 will last at least a few more months and 54% believe they will last for the rest of 2020 and beyond. Regardless of how long the immediate disruptions last, pre-COVID-19 workplace cultures will not automatically resume once public health concerns subside.

The experience of pandemic work-life is imprinted on employees' psyches. Their pandemic-era experiences have reshaped their views of the workplace: how their work influences their overall wellbeing, how they want to interact with their colleagues, and how much flexibility they expect from their employers.

As companies are settling into new norms, shrewd leaders are already anticipating this psychological shift and considering how to adjust to it. Doing so is paramount to keep employees engaged.

Gallup's decades of research about the American workplace provide insights into how businesses can prepare for these shifts in the hearts and minds of workers.

Care for employees holistically.

In response to COVID-19, many workplaces have given greater consideration to employees' non-work priorities and managers have learned to treat their employees as people who work, rather than workers who happen to be people. This type of management -- coaching, not bossing, is something employees have long craved. Leaders should recognize this and encourage managers to continue this people-first approach. Indeed, managers account for 70% of the variance in team engagement levels, and how they treat their direct reports will have an outsized effect on their engagement.

For example, leaders should emphasize with their managers the importance of understanding and accommodating their workers' holistic wellbeing needs. Gallup research shows that the five interconnected elements of wellbeing -- career, social, financial, community and physical -- affect everything from job performance to health status.

Employees' pandemic-era experiences have reshaped their views of the workplace: how their work influences their overall wellbeing, how they want to interact with their colleagues, and how much flexibility they expect from their employers.

As workplaces transition out of the crisis, managers should ask employees about their needs and the demands they're facing outside of work. With that broad perspective, managers can better support each employee's long-term wellbeing and engagement.

Sustain the personal element of your workplace's culture.

Working in the COVID-19 era means dog cameos in video calls or shortening a meeting to accommodate grocery pickup times. Even without in-person interactions at work, colleagues are getting to know their coworkers in more personal ways and developing commensurately deeper bonds. These types of bonds are crucial to an engaged workplace culture.

In fact, employees who have a best friend at work are 50% more likely to report that, at work, they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day and 80% more likely to report that their opinions seem to count at work, according to Gallup's U.S. Workforce Panel collected March 9-23, 2020. COVID-19 has created a shared experience through which employees can create bonds.

As in-office work resumes, leaders should cultivate a work environment in which workers can continue to connect with one another -- and leaders -- on a more personal level. More than ever, leaders should hold managers accountable for demonstrating that they care and recognizing that employees are multidimensional people with interests and responsibilities outside of work.

Provide greater flexibility.

As employees return to the office, leaders can create a more supportive, engaging work environment by accommodating employees' desire for flexibility.

For example, recent Gallup data show that most U.S. employees who are working during COVID-19 want to continue working from home as much as possible once business and school closures are lifted.

This type of management -- coaching, not bossing, is something employees have long craved. Leaders should recognize this and encourage managers to continue this people-first approach.

Gallup has also found that employees who work-from-home part time are more engaged than those who never work from home. Leaders should consider which employees can continue working from home and accommodate their preferences whenever possible. Companies that strategically provide freedom and flexibility to employees can help employees thrive -- and, in turn, stoke performance.

Another area of flexibility leaders should consider is workplace attire. Sweatpants might not be office-appropriate, but leaders should consider which elements of their dress code are necessary and where there is room for increased flexibility. Even small changes can provide flexibility and autonomy that help employees thrive as they return to the office.

The heart of any organization is its people. With this in mind, leaders must anticipate how the psychology of the American workplace will shift because of COVID-19. The best leaders will plan accordingly by training managers to care for employees holistically and by providing a more personal, flexible employee experience.

Manage the transition back to office life with the support of Gallup's resources:

Author(s)

Margaret Carlson is a Consulting Analyst at Gallup.

Bailey Nelson contributed to this article.


Gallup https://www.gallup.com/workplace/312512/preparing-transition-back-office-life.aspx
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