Good news! The CDC has just announced that vaccinated individuals may begin interacting with one another without a face covering or social distancing. This announcement signals the return to in-office work for many businesses, although not all companies are considering this change. Some have opted to remain remote, while others are devising ways to implement a hybrid model for their workforces.

Companies’ experience with remote workers are varied. While some organizations found that productivity increased, others noticed a clear decline in both productivity and profitability. Additionally, many employers reported that it’s been nearly impossible to monitor whether employees are staying focused during work hours. Perhaps understandably so. Given all the distractions that can arise within the home, such as chores, pets, and family matters, it’s difficult at best for any of us to be truly engaged while working remotely.

Regardless of whether a company has experienced a productivity uptick or downturn, many managers simply miss the bonding and team-building aspect of officing in one location. And of course, while many long-term employees are eager to return to work for the same reason (we’ve missed each other!), “newbie” employees—people who were hired during the pandemic—quite often have yet to meet their colleagues, and sometimes even their managers and supervisors. So, when welcoming your employees back into the workplace, it’s important to keep your new employees in mind, to ensure a successful integration into the existing company culture.

Let’s examine a few ways to help make new employees’ return-to-work experiences positive, productive, and fun!

Host a welcome-back party or lunch-in

Before you officially bring the team back into the office, consider welcoming everyone back with a party or lunch-in. It doesn’t have to be a fancy or costly affair. For example, as the weather improves, you (or your HR department) could organize a casual outdoor picnic, or—everyone’s spring/summer favorite—a barbeque. There are plenty of different grilling ideas for vegans and carnivores alike that you and your team can cook up in order to show your appreciation. An event such as this will give your new employees an opportunity to meet their colleagues, face to face, in a relaxed, non-threatening environment. And everyone—both new and established team members—will be grateful, especially after a year of social isolation, to get out of the house and interact with others. As a side benefit, team building events have been shown to exponentially boost production within the workforce. Talk about a win-win!

Implement a strategic floor plan arrangement

While it’s important to think critically about your team as a whole, let’s hark back to the employee who was hired during the pandemic: this may be your new hires' first time setting foot in the office. It’s important to make sure they feel comfortable in their new surroundings, so as you begin implementing a return-to-work plan, think about who your new hires interacted with on a regular basis while working off-site. Come up with a comprehensive seating arrangement so that newer employees who began remotely can sit near familiar team members—it’s the ol’ “buddy system” at work!

This arrangement can be advantageous to new employees’ comfort level, as well as to the workflow in general. According to a survey conducted by Senion, a whopping 39% of employees spend, on average, 60 minutes each week searching for available colleagues. So, rather than having to scour the office for staff members they’re unfamiliar with, new employees’ “buddies” will be right there to assist when needed.

Administer a companywide survey

Rather than making decisions in a vacuum, do all you can to include suggestions from your workforce as you create your organization’s return-to-work plans. Everyone’s situation is different, so be sure to ask your staff for input: What sorts of changes would they like to see with a return to office life? What do they need, specifically, in order to feel comfortable, supported, and safe? If you decide not to undertake a formal survey, simply ask around! Your team members may have some safe practice ideas that you and your management team had not considered.

Taking this step gives you better insight into how your employees truly view going back into the office, while simultaneously giving your staff the sense that you appreciate their honest input. And, back to the new employee…it’s especially important for the new kids on the block to see, early on, that they’re working for a company that values their feedback. (Bonus benefit: Feeling valued has been shown to strengthen employee loyalty!)

Be flexible and understanding

It’s difficult to imagine what each of us has gone through over the past year. In many cases, Covid events have dramatically changed many people’s outlook on life. We’ve seen all sorts of human-interest stories about people who got in shape for the first time in their lives, juxtaposed against reports of the dreaded “Covid 15” (meaning, pounds gained during the pandemic). Some people began new hobbies, while others suffered the painful sting of social isolation. And for workers who have deeply cherished their time at home with their families, the switch back to an office setting may be difficult to make at the snap of a finger. For those employees, consider adopting a hybrid schedule that allows them to ease back into a “traditional” (pre-Covid) workweek, complete with all the challenges that come with commuting, interacting with co-workers, and wearing “real” shoes (remember shoes?). Many organizations are starting off with a shortened in-office workweek (Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday is a widely used schedule), with the intention of gradually building back to a full five days.

The pandemic shutdown may have been swift, but our return to normal is predicted to occur much more slowly. During this challenging “reboot” time, it’s vital to stay positive, because attitudes—both positive and negative—are contagious. Your attitude can and will directly influence how your employees respond to “return to work” directives. Best of luck, as you navigate your team back to productive, safe office life!

Author's Bio: 

Dudley is a professional trainer and keynote speaker, author, business consultant, and founder and former CEO of SkillPath Seminars, the largest public training company in the world. Dudley is a regularly featured speaker on the campuses of many universities, including Cal Poly, USC, UC Irvine, and UCLA, and the author of Work It! Get In, Get Noticed, Get Promoted. She speaks all over the world on a variety of topics, including body language, management and supervision skills, leadership, assertiveness, time management, stress management, communication, business writing and personal relationships.