After a rocky start, remote work forced by the pandemic was deemed successful in many ways. Employers and workers learned how to navigate technology issues, distractions, and the potential loss of a clear line between work and home. As businesses and the public cautiously begin to trust in managing pandemic risks safely, return-to-work is a big point of contention.
While business leaders and top executives may be eager to implement a return to the office, it's essential to consider the benefits of moving forward with caution. There's no denying that the face of business has changed during the pandemic. Movements dubbed The Great Resignation and The Great Reshuffling have made it clear that today's employees see the workplace differently and know they have choices. If you're one of many organizations preparing for The Great Return, now is the time to consider how this return will impact employees and how you can use it to create a better workplace.
In many industries, the return to work occurred in phases during 2021 and early 2022. However, the recent rise in cases due to the Omicron variant resulted in a modified return to office plan, as 30% of companies that were back in the office reverted to remote work, and 41% rescheduled or canceled plans to return. While fears of contracting COVID are still a significant workplace concern, remote work has opened new options for many employees during the pandemic. Concerns about returning to work range from childcare responsibilities and limited flexibility to longer commute times due to pandemic location changes. CEOs and company leaders hoping to implement a successful office return will benefit from listening to their employees and working to make changes that make the workplace more comfortable during the transition. A return-to-work survey can be an excellent tool for employers attempting to strike the perfect balance between returning to the office full-time or maintaining a hybrid workplace.
Returning to the Workplace
When asked in a survey, 65% of employees who are currently working remotely said they would feel comfortable returning to the office. However, the question fails to address how much time employees hope to spend at the office. According to a Wakefield survey of 1,000 US workers, 71% would choose a hybrid work model that allows some remote work. While 82% of employees say they enjoy working remotely, almost all employees have experienced benefits of being on-site like separating work from home, getting face time with managers, and collaborating with co-workers in person. On top of it all, conflicts still exist over COVID-19 and the potential for new variants to emerge. Concerns about exposure still maintain the top spot for concerns about returning to the office.
The question is no longer about whether to return to the workplace at all. Instead, there are many questions about how the return to work should be handled. Concerns about returning to work include work-life balance, COVID exposure from co-workers, mental health decline during the transition, increased commute time and returning to work before feeling safe. When determining the best conditions for a back-to-work transition, consider addressing these concerns in a return-to-work survey.
Conducting a Return-to-Work Survey
At a time when employees are anxious for a variety of reasons about returning to work, transparent communication is crucial. A survey will help you understand how your employees feel about returning to work and the actions within the workplace that could make the transition easier. It can also help you identify how to prepare the office for a comfortable return and the possibility that some employees may need to delay returning longer than others. Consider how these survey questions could help dictate the best conditions for a successful return to work.
- Do you feel safe returning to the office?
- Are you confident your company leaders will implement appropriate safety protocols when employees return to the office?
- Do you have a clear understanding of your company's return-to-work plans and safety practices?
- What would you need to feel safe coming back to work at the office?
- What is your vaccination status?
- How comfortable are you with COVID mandates? What requirements do you think should be put in place for a safe office return?
- If you're not comfortable returning to the workplace, what factors are impacting your decision?
- Will your mode of travel to work pose a significant risk for COVID exposure?
- Do you feel productive working remotely?
- Do you have the equipment and resources you need to perform your job effectively from home?
- Is your current home environment conducive to working from home long-term?
- If you're prepared to return to the office, will you be available to work the same hours as you did before leaving the office?
- Have you relocated? Is your move temporary or permanent? How will it affect your ability to return to the office?
- Do you have concerns about childcare if you return to work?
- If you could choose, would you work 100% remotely, hybrid, or full-time on-site?
- What is your ideal schedule for a hybrid week?
- What concerns do you have about a hybrid workforce?
Best Practices for Conducting a Post-COVID Employee Survey
A Post COVID return-to-work survey aims to gain insight into how your employees feel about returning to work. This is why it's crucial to develop a survey with questions you can incorporate into your office reopening. Ensuring all employees will be comfortable and safe should be your top priority. This means some decisions should be left to management. There are different ways you can phrase questions and implement changes to gather the information you need while maintaining control. These practices can help you create a successful survey.
- Ask multiple-choice or on-a-scale questions to gather more targeted information.
- Consider a checklist instead of asking about employee preferences surrounding PPE and safety precautions. (ex: I am willing to wear a face mask at work.)
- When determining a work return date, avoid forcing a specific date. Consider multiple choice with staggered dates.
- Include questions that address whether employees feel they're properly informed and kept up to date about return to work plans.
- If you're planning to make long-term plans that address improvements to the workplace, include questions about which changes will offer the most benefits to employees.
- Provide provisions that allow employees to offer further information through face-to-face or anonymous contact.
- Include positive questions about returning to work like what employees are looking forward to or what they miss the most. Include multiple-choice options.
Managing the Return to Work
When you include a variety of topics in your return-to-work survey, you can use the results in several different ways. Your employees' physical and psychological safety should be top priority during the transition. Many of the questions on your survey can help you determine how everyone can enjoy a safe return to the office.
Safety is a great starting point for managing the return to work. Use survey questions to gauge your employees' readiness to return to the office. For instance, some workers may be eager to separate work from home, while others don't feel safe returning immediately. This could mean a staggered return to the office that allows your employees some flexibility in making their own choice. Other safety questions can help you determine how to prepare the office physically to limit the potential spread of germs. This could include personal hand sanitizers and other supplies as well as infrastructure or software that allows for touchless check-ins and virtual collaboration in the office.
Other questions on your survey can be used to determine how the pandemic has changed the lives of your employees. Responses to questions about the success of remote work, flexible hours, and childcare concerns can help you decide if and how much you may need to change your company's day-to-day operations. Opinions about how many days to spend in the office vary due to reasons like experience level and whether employees have a dedicated office space at home.
No matter what choices you make, it’s important to let your employees know that you are listening to their concerns and ready to put forth the necessary effort to make the return to work transition as comfortable as possible.
Need Help Managing the Return to Work?
While it's true companies and organizations have been heavily affected by health crises in the past, this disruption to modern business is unlike anything we've experienced. Returning to the office will likely require a new outlook to meet the changing needs and priorities with options. For many, a hybrid work model and other changes will provide opportunities to make the workplace more flexible and collaborative for employees. For instance, employees may wish to schedule in-office workdays together for increased collaboration, social integration, and/or a more enjoyable workday.
As your office changes, you can expect interpersonal dynamics and employee production to change as well. Staying on top of how inner-office changes affect innovation, collaboration, performance, and production will help you understand which strategies are working and which ones need adjustments. With the use of measurable data, you can gain insight into how a changing workplace affects your employees' performance and use that insight to cultivate a healthy, happy and high-performance culture.
RallyBright uses proven behavioral science and professional development tools to help leaders strengthen their team dynamics and improve overall performance. Learn more about how we can help your organization successfully manage the return to work.