Office Hours: Assessing Employee Needs When Returning to the Workplace.

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Author: Jim Durkin
Date: June 2021
From: Risk Management(Vol. 68, Issue 6)
Publisher: Sabinet Online
Document Type: Cover story
Length: 2,558 words
Lexile Measure: 1340L

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It has been more than a year since companies around the world had to quickly develop and implement strategies and processes to shut down physical offices and shift legions of employees to remote work. As more people get vaccinated, infection rates decrease and regional restrictions lift, executives and human resources departments now face the challenge of deciding which employees to bring back into the workplace and when.

Navigating productivity and employee preferences can be tricky. Employers do not want to risk losing quality employees who are thriving at home by forcing them back, or those who are struggling working from home by prolonging it longer than necessary. It is essential to strike the right balance to maximize opportunities for in-person collaboration, meetings and events.

The prospect of returning to in-person activities evokes conflicting feelings across the population. While many are concerned, others are eager, and some are both. In a March 2021 study from the American Psychological Association, half of adults reported feeling uncomfortable about returning to in-person interactions after the pandemic, and this remained the case among the (admittedly small) portion of respondents who had already received the COVID-19 vaccine at that early date.

It is clear that the pandemic has generally had a negative impact on mental health, and given the amount of time and focus people typically spend on their jobs, the isolation and disruption to working conditions have undoubtedly played a role. However, disruption to newly formed routines, concerns about the continuing risk of COVID-19 infections, different home situations and associated responsibilities, and personal work and social life preferences are all potential factors that result in very different feelings about the prospect of returning to in-person work or staying remote. Addressing this issue requires an equally nuanced and individual approach.

Segmenting Employee Sentiments

One month into the pandemic shutdown, the Martec Group conducted a survey of over 1,200 individuals across various industries, demographics and seniority levels and found that employees working remotely fell into one of four categories: thriving, hopeful. discouraged and trapped. Even early on, only 16% of employees were thriving, while 59% were discouraged or trapped.

Each employee's experience of working remotely has been unique and understanding the impact it has had on each person's physical and mental well-being will help companies determine who is ready to return to the office. For example, some parents have been overwhelmed and stressed trying to manage school and work in the home. They may want to get out of the house so they can focus on work at the office. Others have appreciated an improved work-life balance and are dreading going back to the workplace. To maximize personal productivity and job satisfaction and reduce employee turnover, it will be critical to find the right balance for employees going forward.

Analysis of each employee's remote work experience revealed commonalities within each segment that can help employers in their return-to-work planning:

Thriving employees: Only 16% of employees were identified as "thriving." The group was overwhelmingly female (72%), skewed toward...

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