Noticing a distinct lack of enthusiasm when you tell employees it’s time to come back to the office? You’re not alone. While some people are champing at the bit to get out of the house and return to the hullabaloo of their old office environment, others are wondering why they have to come back since they’ve been getting their work done just fine from home. If you’ve decided that the camaraderie and collaboration of teams working together in the same physical space is a must for your business, here are a few ways to soften the blow and boost morale for even the most reluctant returnees.
Practice active empathy
Nothing boosts morale faster than empathizing with your employees—and acting on that empathy. Working from home has been an eye-opening experience for many, in that they’ve been given the flexibility to truly balance work and home life—not just provide that phrase-du-jour lip service. As long as quality was maintained, Zoom meetings were attended, and deadlines were met, work could happen after the kids were tucked in at night, in the quiet of morning for the early risers, around the visit by the dishwasher repairman, etc. Work breaks that had been defined by idle office chit-chat became moments to pop in a load of laundry or walk the dog around the block. When you’re commuting to an office miles from home, all that other “life balance” stuff still has to get done. Active empathy involves being willing to adjust schedules to accommodate their needs, at least for a few months as things get back to “normal.” Set clear expectations about the goals, objectives and deadlines you expect them to meet, but allow your employees to do so by scheduling time in a way that works for them and for the others on their team.
Amp up the perks
Few things are more cringe-worthy than an Office Fun Committee. Mandatory fun, anyone? That said, building some fun into the day is never a bad idea—and after the year we’ve had, people will probably appreciate it. Think of ways to bring people together that most everyone will enjoy and then let things evolve. Catered meals from great restaurants are a good place to start because they give people a reason to take a break and get to know one another again in a conversation-friendly setting. Blend in some games anyone can play and make the prizes worth participating for. When you’re comfortable, incorporate pot lucks, chili cookoffs, salsa challenges and the like. Alternatively, provide perks such as chair massages in a calm, quiet space to work a little Zen into the day. In a more formal office setting, consider upgrading the coffee and snack stations with gourmet treats, providing a dry-cleaning service or giving away tickets to hard-to-get events like sports playoff games. Everyone’s idea of fun is different, so mix it up, then do more of what works.
Make “life balance” easier
Think about all the things people were able to get done when they worked from home, then do what you can to make those tasks a little less burdensome now that your employees are spending a large chunk of their day unable to get to them. Providing services that come to them can be a godsend, and there are plenty to be had. In addition to the aforementioned dry cleaning service, consider on-site car detailing, pet care pick up/drop off, meal prep providers and healthcare services such as mobile clinics. Add time-saving services such as yard care, house cleaning, dog walking and tutoring to your list of perks or prizes—no need to break the bank. Figure out what you can afford, then schedule accordingly—demonstrate your appreciation in a way that works for your bottom line.
Praise and thank often
Recognizing good work may seem like an “of course,” but it often goes by the wayside when business gets busy or even when a stellar performer keeps performing, well, stellar-ly. Go out of your way to make your employees feel good about the work they’re doing. This is the least expensive morale booster of all. First, make sure you understand what they do and how it benefits the company—nothing says “I don’t care” like faint praise—then make time to share your appreciation privately. It may be tempting to make a big production of it, but not everyone responds well to the spotlight. A sincere “thank you” goes a long way.
When it comes to returning-to-work morale, we’re not talking about the true believers who are more than ready to come back after serving as online school overseers, daycare providers, housekeepers and employees all rolled into one, or those who thrive on personal interaction. Their morale will be off the charts. Be enthusiastic about having the team back together and set reasonable expectations, but acknowledge that there will be a period of adjustment for just about everyone, no matter how pumped they are to stop working remotely. The “new normal” culture is yours to create.
About the Author: Ray Ko has been creating effective visual merchandising and interior design strategies for retailers for more than 20 years. Today, he is the senior ecommerce manager for shopPOPdisplays, a leading designer and manufacturer of stock and custom acrylic product.