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Back-to-Office: Why Putting Employees First Will Be Your Best Business Move

How do you keep your employees safe and happy while also keeping customers satisfied and your business thriving? Here are key guidelines.

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Many leaders are concerned about workers' "great resignation" in every industry and at every level, from hospitality and restaurant staff to corporate workers still absent from their physical workplaces. In addition, as a result of the current health crisis, employees are reexamining their priorities and leaving jobs that don't meet those needs.

However, it's very likely this shift was always meant to happen, given the pace of technological development is reshaping what our workplace looks like. Consider how different work today is from the workplace of 50 years ago. The workplace as we know it is changing beyond the point of return – this isn't the first time and it won't be the last time leadership faces employment crises on a massive scale.

Related: How Entrepreneurs Can Prevent Burnout Among Their Teams

As leaders consider the future of work, even as the current health crisis faces escalated threats in the coming months, how do you keep your employees safe and happy while keeping customers satisfied and your business thriving? Based on my nearly 30 years of experience as a serial entrepreneur, here are several guidelines I think will be key:

1. Listen and take care of your people and their families

Your employees are the front lines of your business, regardless of sector or industry. Especially in times of crisis or change, focus on taking care of your people first. If you take care of your people, they will take care of your clients, which will take care of your top business needs.

For example, Silicon Valley companies created campuses with full amenities to encourage employees to feel at home at the office and stay more focused on work. In the context of the current health crisis, this could mean leaders plan for new in-office resources and safety measures or provide childcare resources for employees who are parents and who may have a more challenging time finding childcare. My team sponsored a vaccination clinic for employees and their families at our office in India when vaccine access was a challenge, and we found that this was extremely effective in uniting and reenergizing our staff.

Employee care can mean something different at every company, so survey your teams to get feedback on their current needs, whether it's bonuses, flexible office setups, various technology tools, or more perks.

Early surveys and studies show clear generational differentiators that dictate employees' desires for their future workplace. For example, a June survey from The Conference Board found that 55% of millennial workers question the wisdom of returning to the office, a more significant proportion than older generations.

A clear trend is emerging: Older employees are excited to get back into the office and return to their familiar routines, keeping work and life in separate spaces. Younger Gen Z employees are also eager to return to the office – they want to learn on the job and be part of the mentorship connections that naturally happen more easily in the workplace. In the middle, the generation of employees in their mid-life and mid-career stages largely relished working from home during the past 18 months. Many are parents of young children who enjoyed the extra time gained from no work commuting.

A successful future of work plan should meet the needs of all three of these constituencies. Hybrid work plans, which many (but not all) companies have gravitated towards, can make it easier to meet the needs of each generational group. Yet, each workforce is different and these groups are weighted differently. Think critically about your people and figure out the right balance.

Related: Roughly Half of Americans Want to Return to the Office at Least Some of the Time But Mostly to See Their Work Friends, Not Their Bosses

2. Make culture, innovation and community a return-to-work priority

It's undeniable that employees have proven themselves to be very productive remotely in many workplaces, and innovation has kept pace. Remote communication tools have made leaps and bounds in the past year and companies were forced to address digitalization plans, whether they were ready or not.

Keep that momentum to maintain your culture and high level of innovation in your return-to-office plans and beyond. Human connectivity is essential to keeping your teams engaged and coming back excited about work. Many large companies have internal interest groups, from special industry focus groups to committees to discuss race or gender at the organization or within a specific industry.

As a leader, allow cultural moments at your company to happen organically and encourage them to become even bigger with leadership buy-in. When offices reopen, it will be just as important to create space and time for employees to connect — and reconnect. Allow your teams to re-form interpersonal bonds and properly welcome staff that joined your company entirely remotely. These seemingly minor moments of human connection make a significant impact on your team's longevity.

3. Lead with agility

"Agility" has been a big buzzword over the past several years, but what does agility mean in the context of evolving corporate cultural trends?

Leaders need to approach internal goals and benchmarks with the same speed and intensity as their business goals, and break these goals down into smaller, simultaneously operating chunks.

Meet with stakeholders at all levels of your company and define what those goals are. Then, if employees need something, build it for them.

If you can't start with agile leadership within your own company, employees will struggle to get on board with pushing for strong agility goals for your customers and clients. In other words: if you don't walk the walk, you can't talk the talk.

Related: Apple Employees Reportedly Won't Return to Office Until Next Year

4. Be intentional about your future culture

Leaders need to be thoughtful about approaching times of change to have the best success at keeping teams — and customers — steadily on board with your company, product or service.

Maintaining your team's culture and level of innovation comes easiest when you can bring people back to the office as soon as possible. But first, listen to your people, show you're listening with intentional actions and put people's safety above everything else.

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