Return to office and the role of communication

It’s been nearly 15 months since the lockdown hit us all. And, it has changed our life beyond recognition. The forced work from home in most cases has altered our habits – personal and professional. Work from anywhere is a good concept but it is still pretty much work in progress for most companies. So, as the lockdown is coming to an end, the employees will be slowly and steadily, expected to resume working from office in most companies, even if it is for a few days in the week.

And it’s not going to be easy!

Though the HR teams will be in charge of making this process a smooth and hassle free experience, they would need the help of communication. So here are some of the thoughts I have on how HR and Communication can work together to make the experience a smooth and easy one.

Acknowledgement & Awareness

Whether we like it or not, work from home has altered many of our daily habits. Be it not getting in the car in the morning to drive to office or not wearing formals every day or it could be anything. It may be a small change, but as we revert to our old lives, it will be a Herculean effort to switch off certain habits we have developed in the last one year and switch on certain old habits.

The first step is going to be the acknowledgment of the difficulties that may arise. The communication team could use some story telling or develop some content around this issue to put everyone at ease by acknowledging that this is going to be a problem for all – albeit in varying degrees depending on our individual personalities. There could be some instances where examples could be used from other areas where similar examples could be used. For example, sharing experiences of how sportsmen and sportswomen start their routine after an injury that forced them to take a long break. Or some actors, who took up an assignment that needed them to have a complete makeover and how they managed the change. These stories, presented creatively, can help ease a lot of tension and acceptance of the situation as rare but normal.

Announcement

Office reopening after such a long time will not be an easy task. There needs to be a complete action plan on how the whole process will happen. The employees would be very anxious to know the detailed action plan. It would be best if a virtual town-hall can be organised with the management who can assure the employees that all safety measures are being taken and their vision of how the reopening will actually take place. This will be reassuring for the employees. The detailed action plan may be communicated later through other means of internal communication used by the company so that everyone is crystal clear about the intention of the company

Answering Questions

It is possible that there will be a lot of questions. And it might be very difficult if not managed in a proper manner. The best way could be to request for the questions and develop a FAQs, by forming a committee comprising of HR, Communication and Admin representatives. This FAQs can be displayed on the extranet. The committee could also form a helpline or hotline where the questions not covered under the FAQs can be addressed.

An event to celebrate being ‘back in office’  

Everyone missed the office get together, the catchups over coffee and the fun of all being together in an informal avatar. The last few months have been stressful for everyone and therefore a good light session to start the office return can be a good idea. This of course will need to be carefully organised and managed keeping in mind all the protocols and the social distancing norms of the COVID.

This could be a platform to showcase the vision of the HR and management to informally announce the way they perceive the future of work. This could be an opportunity for the company to show how they put their employees first and care for them.

This could also be an opportunity to show gratitude to the people from the office who have worked relentlessly during the pandemic to keep the office running. And also say a prayer to the friends and families who have suffered personal loss during the pandemic. Creative messaging like a giant Gratitude Card could be designed for everyone to sign and then display at the reception as a memory for later.

Using the opportunity to make work fun

Lots of companies have experimented with morning yoga and wellness programmes. The testimonials of employees about these programmes could be used to create welcome notes on the first day of work or play them on the office plasma for everyone to see. Some of the wellness programmes could continue even after the office starts and the communication team could amplify these programmes to the office employees using the tools for internal communications.  The employees regularly attending these programmes could be highlighted using internal wellness campaigns so that there is motivation for employees to attend these programmes and overall the workplace becomes a happier place for everyone to look forward going to, again.

Conclusion

It is said that the chains of habit are too light to be noticed until they are too heavy to be broken. The employees have developed habits in the last one year which are going to be difficult to be changed. It will need a lot of effort on part of the employees and a lot of patience & handholding from the company to help employees come back to their earlier state of working. It can be a boring task or it can be an interesting employee engagement activity that employees rediscover the love of coming to offices. The choice is going to be with the companies on whether they want to make it fun or difficult. If the companies choose to make the office rejoining a fun activity, the communication has a huge role to play and make it happen.


The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Tilak Chowdhury
DGM - Corporate Communication at Egis-India
Tilak Chowdhury, manages the communication and CSR of the India Region for the Engineering & Project Management Company Egis.

Egis is working on some very prestigious projects in the country which include eight metros projects, three airports, two smart cities, one port, many urban projects like Chattrapati Shivaji Memorial in Mumbai.

He has more than 15 years of experience of working with large multinational companies in advertising, journalism, public relations, exhibitions, internal communications and branding. He has been associated with brands like Jubilant Life Sciences, Ambuja Cement, Kinetic, Mahindra in the past.

Tilak enjoys reading, watching movies, shopping, blogging, travelling and food.

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