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Returning to the Office: What Managers Can Do to Prepare Employers need to be prepared for how things have changed since we went into lockdown last spring.

By Josh Christopherson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

With the Covid-19 vaccine rolling out across the country, offices are reopening and employees are returning to in-person work. What can we expect going forward and how can leaders be ready?

How can managers and company leaders prepare for offices to reopen, and what tools can they use?

As offices reopen, it is important for managers to recognize that many of their employees have experienced the conveniences of working from home for more than a year. Employee mindset has changed over that time, and teams need to embrace new tools and new hybrid work models in order to bring back company culture and collaboration.

Tools that help bring people together and grow culture remotely will be critical as businesses large and small adapt to this new environment. Employee education and skills training is one area where remote technology needs to be adopted in order to meet the same quality standards as in-person learning. Technology can combine training tools with AI-powered coaching and progress reporting to help managers. This will help replace some of what is missing from the work experience when employees are out of the office while still allowing them to experience the conveniences that come with working from home. When managers embrace new tools, managers also embrace that their employees are going to spend some of the work week at home.

Is there anything managers should do to personally adjust their leadership approach as staff returns to work?

The discussion around the concept of a hybrid work environment varies. Managers need to adjust their mindset and tour the benefits of a hybrid working environment in order to attract high quality talent and retain their existing employees.

The challenge is finding ways to accommodate employee expectations, while still offering opportunities for employees to grow and engage. If a hybrid work model is going to be the new paradigm, employers need to find ways to build company culture and make sure remote employees are part of the community. Managers should also take steps to evaluate themselves and their promotion decisions to make sure they are not subconsciously favoring their in-person employees.

It's time to let go of the old-school managerial attitude that says if there isn't a worker in a seat, work isn't getting done. Time tracking tools, facial recognition and passive monitoring tools can all ensure employee productivity while allowing a necessary level of privacy to employees. As a manager, it's important to shift from the old ways of "watching and managing" to using technology to fill in the gaps.

Related: Can Employee Monitoring Be Done Ethically?

Do you expect a change in productivity? If so, elaborate.

There seems to be a fairly wide disparity between executives and employees as to how working from home has impacted productivity. In one study, 43% of executives indicated that their company had been forced to delay major launches, campaigns or initiatives as a result of employees working from home and collaborating virtually. Among managers who had concerns with employees working from home, 86% ranked productivity as the top concern. 40% of employees, on the other hand, said that working from home actually made them more productive.

So the question arises: Why is there such a disparity? Is it because employees just want to stay home and are trying to justify it? Do managers just want to be able to monitor their employees more closely throughout the day? Whatever the case may be, it seems widely accepted that employees expect to be able to work from home at least some of the time moving forward and are willing to leave their jobs if not accommodated. It is the manager's job to adapt to the new model and find ways to reach previous levels of productivity.

When the current health crisis started, existing tools were modified to fill the gap in remote work. More than a year later and the work-from-home technology revolution is in full swing. Internal communications, employee monitoring, remote training and real-time collaboration tools have been created to bring the in-person work experience to the home office. If productivity is suffering, employers need to find the tools that will improve their employees' chances of success.

Related: How to Design the Ideal Home Office

What changes to culture should managers be ready for, and how can they help rebuild?

Managers need to be in touch with their employees' challenges with moving back into the office. Some may face childcare struggles or schedule conflicts, while others may be feeling anxiety about face-to-face interaction after over a year of working from home. There are tools to help if communicating with employees about these challenges is challenging.

In times of transition and friction, maintaining good communications with your employees and giving them the space to express their work-related concerns is more important than ever. Employers who fail to address these issues will face higher rates of burnout among their employees, who will then leave for an employer who takes better care of them.

Related: High-Stress Companies Need to Invest in Employee Mental Health

What systems or programs can managers implement now to carry over to the post-lockdown worklife?

Regular and frequent check-ins are going to be key. Understanding your employees' mindset and attitude will help you retain more and have a happier, more engaged workforce. It's critical that your managers are trained and supported in their ability to work and manage in this new environment. You can't expect them to know how to do this without help. Make sure they have the tools and guidance on how to bring back company culture and foster the environment for a solid company.

Most of the information we have about remote work comes from a time before a world-shifting event upended our lives. Modern remote work will look significantly different from that system as new tools continue to roll out every day. If employers adopt these tools now, they will be able to troubleshoot their programs and see which tools work best for them. They can also use this time to start to evaluate what productivity levels and cost savings can be expected when using modern remote work technology.

The world of work will likely never be the same, but now we have a chance to enjoy other parts of our lives. This permanent change should be embraced as technology allows us to find a better balance between our work and home lives. By updating management styles, using new tools and technologies and changing expectations, companies can be ready to support their employees through the transition back into the office while maintaining productivity and attracting the best new talent.

Josh Christopherson

CEO of Achieve Today

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