How well are you communicating your back to office plans?

October 19, 2021

Janine Allen

Hybrid. Flexible. Remote. Re-entry. Cohorts. Hot desks. Hoteling.

As employers, we’re all trying to keep up with the new workplace terminology.

And we should be. Because it demonstrates that we’re actually listening to our employees. These words signal where the dust will eventually settle on the workplace of tomorrow.

But whatever you decide is best for your organization – from completely remote to full time in the office or something in-between – how you communicate those plans will be a key factor in retaining staff and managing the severity of the impact on your employer brand.

I was speaking with an associate a few months ago about her reaction to her organization’s approach. The company, a large tech company (not a client!) had sent out multiple surveys to employees asking for their preferences for a return-to-work plan. Feedback on those surveys indicated that many employees wanted more flexibility. But one June morning, the company sent out an all-staff email advising that they would be returning to a mandatory 4-day, in-office structure that fall. No surprise, this announcement feels shockwaves through the organization: “Why would they ask us what we want, then do the opposite?” “I don’t understand the rationale behind this decision!”

The company, who gave staff the impression their feelings and wishes were being considered in one communication, communicated through their actions that they were, in fact, not relevant after all.

As we continue this arduous and unpredictable journey towards whatever the new workplace will be, how do you encourage employees to stay on the path with you?

  1. Listen

The most obvious of basic human qualities, but so inconsistently practiced. It’s crucial to understand the environment you’re going to be communicating in if you want people to be receptive to news and organizational changes. And recognize that these are ever-changing. What are their current stressors and motivators? What barriers will people face in a return to office situation? What are the things that they miss most about the office? How do they feel about the culture today vs. pre-pandemic?

  1. Choose your channels

Evaluate all your available channels for communication and decide which is best for communicating news. An all-staff email from the CEO may be the most efficient for policy announcements, but it lacks a clear feedback mechanism or the ability to gauge sentiment. Team meetings are more personal, but you are relying on others for consistency of message delivery.

  1. Be consistent

In the absence of proactive communications, rumors and speculation thrive. In times of uncertainty, employees need more communication, not less. Make sure you’re providing regular updates and that you maintain a consistent message around the importance of employee health and wellness as you evaluate and make decisions on the future of the workplace. Some of our clients have established daily or weekly newsletters, or set standing office hours, so people know how they’re going to be communicating.

  1. Be honest

If you need to make a difficult or unpopular announcement, explain WHY. If you treat your people with respect, and provide an honest, direct rationale for the decision, they will be more likely to accept it. They may not like the change, but they may understand it better.

Additionally, it’s ok to not have all the answers. There was no leadership playbook for COVID-19. We’re all going through this for the first time. You can and will build trust if you’re transparent about what you know and don’t yet know.

Which leads me to my last recommendation….

  1. Commit to following up

This goes back to consistency. Let people know when they can expect to hear from you again. And meet those deadlines, if you want to build trust. Listen. Take Action. Repeat.

So, when all our cohorts re-enter the flexible, hybrid workplace that provides hot, hoteling desks for those who want a break from remote work, effectively communicating your re-opening roadmap along every step of the way will make it all a bit easier.

Certainly easier than that last sentence!

Have a question? Interested in finding out more?