Christine Cardinal is senior vice president, nonprofit banking group, at Atlantic Union Bank in Reston, Virginia, and immediate past chair of ASAE’s Finance and Business Operations Professionals Advisory Council.
More and more associations are bringing staff back to the office. To facilitate a smooth transition, organizations can take several steps, including starting with the “why” behind your return, focusing on flexibility, and communicating frequently.
Associations are ramping up strategies to bring employees back to the office after two-plus years of full-time remote work. As we head further into 2022, the push to return to the office will only expand. During a recent webinar hosted by Atlantic Union Bank, a panel of local business experts offered considerations for associations to weigh. Here are six of them.
Communicate why you’re going back. After many employees spent two years working from home, organizations learned that remote work was successful. So, before rushing to bring people back to the office, leaders should pause and ask “why?”
The push for in-person could be important for culture, morale, and collaboration. Leaders need to understand their own business needs and the unique mindset of their workforce. New hires tend to feel more connected and engaged in a thriving workplace and might learn and embrace an organization’s culture better around other people.
On the other side of the coin, the pandemic helped some industries innovate and become more efficient. For example, the healthcare industry was able to increase remote assessments of patients via telemedicine and robotic diagnosis of conditions. It would be foolish to put a halt to efficiency and innovation simply for the sake of having people in person without a strategic vision of “why.”
While exceptions can be made in certain circumstances (e.g., Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations), treating employees in a disparate way can create employment liabilities and allegations of discrimination and unfair treatment.
Factor in staff retention. From a hiring and retention perspective, many workers today want the flexibility that remote and hybrid work offer. Employee retention needs to be factored into an association’s calculations. Employers today must balance presence, connection, productivity, and collaboration against the flexibility that employees seek. Organizations that push too hard for full-time back in the office risk losing key personnel.
Rethink office space and in-office roles. Upon returning to the office, the traditional layout will likely work for some employers, while others may opt for “hoteling” options.
There is also no question that remote options work for many roles, while other positions demand in-person engagement. Mapping out job functions and which positions need to be present in person will help employers match certain job types with performance metrics and in-person needs.
Assess risks. Of course, there are risks associated with return-to-office policies. While exceptions can be made in certain circumstances (e.g., Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations), treating employees in a disparate way can create employment liabilities and allegations of discrimination and unfair treatment. Consult legal counsel on employment decisions. Part of the back-to-the-office conversation should include a thorough risk-evaluation and risk-management process. And if the pandemic taught us anything, we need to refresh our incident-response and business-continuity plans. From an insurance standpoint, speak with your broker about potential new or enhanced coverages you may need to address when returning to the office.
Communicate frequently and stay ready. Err on the side of overcommunicating. Do your homework and analyze carefully. Consider setting aside time for weekly research, so you can be informed of what other organizations are doing. Continue to tap into medical resource advisors as well. Although the pandemic has waned, a COVID-19 resurgence could cause further roadblocks. It is also important to test your association’s readiness. Use practice days to make sure that IT infrastructure is working properly, employees’ computers are still working and mapped to printers, and new staff will have technology that works.
Prioritize mental health. Finally, be mindful of potential mental health issues employees could be facing after a long pandemic. It is important that the emotional well-being needs of employees are being met, so employers must pay attention. Possible future variants may make people feel additional anxiety. Employees may also be dealing with challenges at home, such as childcare or eldercare concerns. Provide ample notice before requiring employees to come back. Some employees may have adopted pandemic pets and rightly will have angst about leaving these pets at home alone for long stretches.
At the end of the day, this can be an open conversation. Employees are dealing with burnout and fatigue, and while leaders may feel that a rush back to the office is the cure, it may not be the best answer for everyone. Flexibility, humility, analysis, empathy, communication, and emotional IQ can go a long way.