Humanising the Return to Work

As we slowly emerge from lockdown, it’s important to explore how we can support people in their return to a hybrid human world of work. Currently 9 in 10 leaders across Western Europe believe hybrid working is here to stay (Microsoft). At the same time, 45% of teams report feeling less connected during COVID and it’s only the teams that experience a greater sense of community with their co-workers that thrived. Since hybrid working impacts people tremendously but is here to stay, it is essential to help individuals, teams and leaders develop how they can work together optimally for high performance and wellbeing.

After more than a year in a pandemic where people have been working flat out, people are exhausted and burnout is a real threat. Additionally, many people have had great care taking responsibilities and other stressors, such as dealing with illness, bereavement and mental health. Yet Mercer recently published a report that showed that in a study with more than 800 employers, 94% of employers said productivity was the same or higher compared to pre-pandemic. To do this, we’ve needed to rely on individual high-performers but in our return to a hybrid way of working, we need to empower teams to work better together to release the burden on individuals. Additionally, leaders have been under immense pressure to ensure business objectives are met and teams stay cohesive, motivated and engaged. In our return to work, it is essential that as an organisation we support leaders with the tools and skills to be able to lead successfully in a hybrid world of work and know how they can lead their teams in an authentic, empowering way.

Deloitte in their report on human capital trends, emphasised that in 2021 it is essential for organisations to be more human and focused on what can help their people thrive rather than survive. Moreover, as Microsoft summarised well in their 2021 World Trend Index, the choices we make as leaders in this next phase of working will impact our organisation’s ability to compete for best talent, drive creativity and innovation, and create an inclusive work environment. Although there are challenges and uncertainty ahead, we have an opportunity to unlock new ways to achieve everything from wellbeing and work-life balance to an inclusive and authentic company culture – and experience better business outcomes along the way. By focusing on taking a human approach we can create a better future of work for everyone.

To help you with your return to work planning, we wanted to share three practical tips on how you can humanise the return to work: 

– Help support and develop leadership capability helping them to lead in a human, authentic way and empower virtual & hybrid teams. One way to do this is to set up peer-learning opportunities for leaders where they can connect, support each other, and discuss challenges and best practice regarding working in this new way. Questions to discuss could be: What has worked well for you? What do you find challenging? What would you need to lead more effectively?

– Encourage teams to be intentional in how they connect meaningfully with each other. As a team, schedule in time for informal conversations, create psychologically safe opportunities for people to share their thoughts and ideas and questions around working in a hybrid way and make sure people feel heard around their thoughts and feelings in returning to work.

– Create clarity around what you expect of people in this new way of work, for instance with a handbook filled with resources and clear guidelines. Especially for people for whom flexible working was an entirely new experience during the pandemic, it is important that they understand what is expected of them. For teams, encourage conversations on how people prefer to work (etc. platforms, how to collaborate) and explore how you can best work together in a virtual work, playing to everybody’s strengths.