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Returning to the office: 4 ways to communicate expectations while allaying employees’ anxiety

Posted by Kanika Sinha

June 28, 2021

As cities and states across the U.S. gradually give the green light for reopening, many companies are devising plans for bringing staff back to the office.   But this return to work promises to be challenging for both employees and employers — in some ways even more than the abrupt shift to remote work in March 2020.    Many employees are grappling with re-entry anxiety and stressed about what their back-to-work conditions will look like. A June 23, 2021, report from Morning Consult finds that 31% of survey current remote workers feel “uncomfortable” going back to the office, while 66% feel “comfortable” with the idea.    These findings show the importance for employers to navigate reopening the office in a way that reassures employees of their safety while also ensuring the right conditions for continued productivity. In short, back-to-the-office will entail solid logistical planning on the part of business owners.    Companies will also need to ensure compliance with federal, state and local government rules, adding another layer of complexity. No doubt, this is another period of profound change for businesses. Here are five strategies employers can implement to ensure a successful reopening while also easing employees’ fears.

  • Announce your return-to-work

    plan beforehand

  It goes without saying that most employees are nervous about getting back to the office after over a year of working in isolation from home. Many harbor concerns about workplace safety, especially the possibility of being around unvaccinated colleagues.   It is important for you to communicate your reopening plan to staff well in advance of the target date. Your announcement should specify every safety protocol that will be followed. From the new office layout to whether to use of the elevator, from work schedules to related HR policies, shares the details with your employees.  

  • Train leadership to help support employees

  Leaders need to shoulder some of the responsibility for ensuring a smooth return. Provide training so they know the best practices for responding to employee concerns and are able to offer rudimentary mental health guidance if needed.   Consider holding virtual reentry workshops for executives, focusing on topics such as building resilience, handling ambiguity, developing emotional intelligence and leading hybrid teams. This will help them model healthy behaviors and build a culture of caring in the workplace, in turn reducing anxiety and improving productivity.  

  • Clearly define your hybrid work strategy

  After working from home for more than a year, many employees do not wish to give up their flexibility by going back to the office. A January 2021 Gartner Survey of more than 2,400 knowledge workers found that 54% of respondents would base their decision to continue working with the current organization on their employer’s approach to flexible work arrangements.    You may wish to create a hybrid work model to address your employees’ desire for flexibility and in turn demonstrate that they are valued. Ensure your hybrid work strategy is well-defined and delineates when individuals can work remotely and when they are expected on-site.    As an example, tech company Dropbox has taken a virtual-first approach. The firm will allow nearly 3,000 of its employees to continue to work remotely most of the time, requiring them to go to the office only occasionally for more collaborative and team-building work.    Keep in mind that adopting a hybrid approach to working will not only help you address employee concerns, but could also help you avoid mass employee turnover

  • Lay out protocols for vaccine conversations

  As employees come back to the office, conversations about COVID-19 vaccinations are inevitable. This could trigger discriminatory behavior among employees based on vaccination status, with unvaccinated individuals potentially being excluded from group interactions.   As such conversations can’t be banned in the office, you need to clearly explain to employees what types of behavior are acceptable in the workplace concerning vaccine status.

  • Be transparent

  Regular open communication from senior leaders can help allay employee’s reentry anxiety. Keep staff abreast of the business’ performance as well as any COVID-19 updates in the spirit of accurate, transparent briefings.


Kanika Sinha
Kanika Sinha

Kanika is an enthusiastic content writer who craves to push the boundaries and explore uncharted territories. With her exceptional writing skills and in-depth knowledge of business-to-business dynamics, she creates compelling narratives that help businesses achieve tangible ROI. When not hunched over the keyboard, you can find her sweating it out in the gym, or indulging in a marathon of adorable movies with her young son.

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