The past two years have been difficult, yet interesting, for everyone. If COVID-19 and its ongoing global implications have taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.
When I hear expect the unexpected, all I can think about is flexibility. Flexibility at work, at home, with my family, with my friends, etc. Flexibility at work can have a wide range of definitions - but to me, it means to be in the best environment possible for me to get my best work done. What works for me might not necessarily work for my colleagues. What works for my company might not work for the next.
Let’s talk about flex work.
Some companies are focused now on figuring out how to return to communal workspaces to give their people a sense of flexibility in terms of where they work from. Other companies are focused on improving their systems for continued remote work.
Modern technology allows us to work from practically anywhere. And for some, flexible working arrangements—where people work from home part of the time and in the office the rest—will no longer be a rare occurrence, but the new norm. A recent study by Accenture found that over 83% of workers want a more flexible work environment to stick around.
Many Canadians will be back at work shortly (if not already), whether they’re ready to return or not. But before they do, leaders should do a few things to ease their employees back into the workplace and help prevent (or at least limit) anxiety and burnout amongst staff to make their transition easier.
How to Reduce Employee Anxiety as Flex Work is Adopted
Communicate Clearly and Consistently
I’m sure you can agree that it has been challenging to communicate return to work, flex work, hybrid work (really, whatever you want to call it) plans with staff. But, as many have likely already learned, either through personal experience or anecdotally, consistent communication with management is integral to reducing employee anxiety.
Maintain clear, open channels of communication to connect with staff—ideally every day, if not weekly—about evolving protocols and requirements, especially on a local level, so the information they receive is most relevant to them, and they know you’re following proper guidelines while structuring their return to work.
Employees have come to cope with some ambiguity in their day-to-day lives. But, regular communication can go a long way towards reducing stress and anxiety as employees mentally prepare for the next chapter of their work life.
Despite employees stressing about the road to flex work, a full-fledged return won’t be immediately possible for many offices. That's why some companies are experimenting with more flexible working arrangements, allowing staff to book their workspaces in advance and select which dates and times they want to come in, or having teams work on rotating schedules to adhere to office capacities.
According to a study completed by McKinsey & Co., executives believe that 9 out of 10 organizations will be hybrid (or flexible) post pandemic. Ultimately, what that entails will differ from company to company, industry to industry.
The fact is, although some may be itching to get back to the office, many jobs can be done remotely. Giving employees the option of whether or not to return can help companies manage office capacity more easily and reduce stress as they reopen.
Every organization is different, but each could undoubtedly benefit from taking things slow and having a system to ease employees back as they return to their physical workplaces, if they decide to do so.
If there’s a silver lining to the pandemic, it’s a renewed focus on supporting employees’ mental health and emotional well-being.
As your company continues to plan how it will evolve into a flex work environment, ensure all staff know what resources are available through your employee assistance programme or group health plan. Clarify who they can talk to internally if they're experiencing any difficulties, so that they can be guided in the right direction towards counselling or other services.
Ask employees how they’re doing, either directly or anonymously through a pulse survey, so you know how staff are coping and if they need any help. Doing so reduces the stigma associated with mental health issues and treatment.
And be honest about your struggles. According to a global study by Qualtrics, 40% of senior business leaders have experienced a decrease in their mental health during the pandemic. Stress and anxiety can affect everyone. Being open with your own struggles normalizes conversations around mental health issues, and opens the door for future dialogue with employees.
Everyone responds to stressors differently, and few have been left unfazed by the coronavirus over the past year. And while some heightened levels of anxiety are to be expected, employees shouldn't fear for their health and safety as they prepare for their return to work.
The future is uncertain, as it has been throughout all of this. But by communicating with staff regularly, offering support, and embracing a flex work model, employers can ensure a safe and gradual return to work when they (and their employees) are ready.
As each company discovers what flex work means to them, we need to ensure that we remain versatile. Don’t be afraid to adjust your assumptions regarding flex work as you experience it. This can mean a number of things, but to me this means:
- Collect data to help in our decision-making processes. Look at what’s working and what’s not working, then make decisions.
- Communicate to our people that the processes and systems that are being put in place to support their flex work arrangements will likely shift over time as we adapt and learn about the new reality of work.
- Involve our people in all decisions and conversations surrounding their work environment. Gather their feedback and adjust our plans accordingly to support our employees.
Need help embracing a flex work environment? Click here to learn more about Nook Calendar.