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Guide to HR: Help employees get back to the office

Return well to the office. Both physically and mentally.

Little by little, employees can now return to the office. HR, work environment representatives, and management must help rather than expect everyone to return pain-free to manage it successfully.

In this article, we give HR representatives insight into how to help employees return safely to the office.

Returning to the office can be stressful for some. Still, with thorough planning, clear communication, and dialogue, HR can help employees navigate safely through the transition from working from home to physical attendance.

Also read: Prevent wrist pain during office work

Many companies want their employees back quickly. But it is crucial to keep in mind that this cannot happen overnight. It will most likely take time for many to get used to being back - and thus perform at the same level as before.

Guide to HR: What is the role of HR?

HR is the link between management and the employees. Especially when the objective is to get everyone back in a suitable manner. Therefore, there is a massive communications task in instructing both management and employees what will happen to manage expectations.

A proactive approach is vital, where you articulate expectations from both sides. It is an illusion to think that things can be the same as before.

It concerns both the physical work environment, but equally the mental aspects. Long periods of working from home may have been a strain on some, while others have thrived on it and have seen what it offers them. The challenge is to support everyone in the transition and how they choose to organise themselves in the future.

Help employees return to a good working environment

Physically, you must decide how to set yourself up best. It should not be up to the individual employee to make sure there is enough distance. Help employees back by making the overall decisions in advance. Suppose the office is to be decorated differently than before. It is essential to ensure that ergonomics are considered in the new space - both at home and in the office. It is more relevant than ever after a long time of working from home with varying - often not good - ergonomics.

Also read: Ready for the hybrid workplace?

Get good habits from the start when you return to the office

To return successfully to the office, you must make a plan with your manager. It makes it easier not to fall back into bad habits while getting your work expectations aligned.

Many of us tend to work way too much when we return to the office. Instead of making that mistake, talk to your manager and possibly your colleagues about how to prioritise it, so you avoid drowning in work.

Once you prioritise the workload, it is easier to set a framework for your workday and avoid exhausting yourself. That way, you can enjoy it when you have free time and not feel bad about what you did not get done.

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We probably also picked up a few good habits while working from home. Perhaps online meetings have worked better in some aspects, as they could be kept shorter. Perhaps some meetings have proved excessive. And maybe you have learned some brand new things about how to work best yourself.

All that you need to take with you in creating some new, good work habits.

Good ergonomics is also a good habit

We got tossed into working from home, where most have been sitting in poor conditions in the kitchen, living room, or children's room. Places that are not ergonomically designed for work.

Simultaneously, it has been harder to remember that ergonomics is not just about having the right office chair at the right height. It is also about how you keep your body active. 

Therefore, it is a welcome opportunity to get started on getting variety and breaks when you return to the office. This way, you remember to change working body positions several times during the day. You can use them to get moving a bit and talk to your colleagues, who also need to remember the good, ergonomic habits.

Also read: Ergonomics in the office: How to put it on the agenda

Overall, a good computer workstation requires five things:

  • An ergonomic chair
  • A height-adjustable desk
  • A correctly set and positioned screen
  • A keyboard that suits you and tends to tilt negatively
  • An ergonomic mouse

Also read: Avoid injuries and save money: The effect of an ergonomically correct workstation

Clear communication also creates an excellent mental work environment

You must be clear in your communication about how you handle COVID (or the remnants thereof). This should cover both possible outbreaks and your guidelines for disinfection and distance.

It comes naturally for some employees,  but for others, it can provide reassurance knowing that the workplace has formulated regulations and knows what to do. There must be unambiguous (and sensible) rules around the kitchen, canteen, and other places where everyone gathers.

Always inform about amended cleaning protocols. Perhaps the pandemic experience has led you to introduce an extra cleaning during the day in exposed places, or maybe you will ask your employees to clean selected locations once they have been there.

If you do, you must also make sure that they have the means for cleaning and disinfection. It should not be the responsibility of the individual. If some demand other cleaning products, make sure they get them.

Make a guide for HR - and employees

In the big puzzle of getting everyone back, more guides need to be made. Both for yourself - and for the employees.

Because it is not a possibility that everyone has to come in again at the same time. Therefore, plan well in advance how everyone will return. Preferably with a detailed step-by-step plan with defined sub-goals.

It is helpful for employees to know in advance when to meet at the office so they can mentally prepare.

Make sure the communication is clear, and communicate well in advance if there are any changes.

Especially if not everyone has returned to the office. Everyone should have the same communication so that no misunderstandings arise. Therefore, you must also explain why you do as you do.

Help employees return by listening to them

Employees feel calmer when they are heard and acknowledged. Allow space to recognise that some need more flexibility than others in the transition to returning to the office.

An excellent mental work environment requires spaciousness and room for diversity. Therefore, you must be able to take individual considerations into account and not rush through this transition.

A common understanding must be created of what a good working life is and how to set that framework together. Therefore, you must facilitate that there is open talks about what a good working life entails.

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