While the world endured a pandemic that catalyzed a global “work from home” social experiment, over 20.5 million jobs were lost in just the first few weeks of the pandemic.1 Aside from job loss, people were faced with other forms of stress, caring for loved ones from a distance, staying healthy, and supporting their families as best they could.
Along with extreme loss came a steady flow of personal and professional change. As many people adjusted to change in their work lives, it was unclear precisely what the complete picture would look like. In many ways, we still don’t know, though people have changed companies, gone back to school, and even started new professions during the pandemic.
That said, many of the employees who onboarded virtually in 2020 have a firm grasp of the company culture and their job products, yet they are new to the physical office space. It is vital employers care for these employees’ experiences and social connections during the season of returning to the office while acknowledging they are not brand-new employees.
When polled, human resource managers reported that only 1% of companies plan to require employees to work a traditional full-time schedule in the office.2 Instead, many will offer areas of flexibility when it comes to operating schedule and location. This makes sense, given 37% of jobs in America can be performed entirely at home.3 Half of people who work right now say they will look for a new job if their current company doesn’t offer enough flexibility or remote-work options.4
The great social “work from home” experiment resulted in greater productivity levels for American workers during the pandemic,5 but what does it mean for the future of in-person onboarding? The significant benefits of working in a shared space include collaboration with teammates and in-person creative sessions. These benefits will only be realized if employees feel psychologically and physically safe and valued by those who lead them.
Here are seven ways to welcome existing employees to the office for the first time:
Send an email with a map of the office, instructions on where desks are located. Mark the restrooms with clear directions and signage. Include a list of meetings for the first-week in-office and provide key fobs accordingly. If your space has norms around food delivery locations, mailrooms, and other utility services, be sure to communicate those. Share WIFI network names and passwords for the office and snacks and drinks available all help ease the anxiety around a new space.
Gather everyone in the company and explain the wild set of circumstances leading to our new staff not being new anymore, yet newly stepping onsite. Introduce each person in the company, include an icebreaker, and invite people to stay for a drink or two. Create a safe social space where everyone can bond and celebrate the challenging year that’s in the rear-view mirror. People crave connection and laughter, so set up an environment that facilitates togetherness.
Arrange for the new-to-the-office staff members to get an organic check-in from an executive. Now is a great time to find out how things are going at the company and form connections for feedback and another warm welcome. Leaders can stop by the employees’ desk or send a quick chat message on their first week in the office.
Communicate value to employees and celebrate them in the office with great food and times of fun. Have your executive leaders handwrite notes of thanks to team leads, departments, or individuals. If you can afford it, give unexpected bonuses or gift cards to say thank you.
Ask your employees what they prefer and build your plan around the feedback you receive. Send an anonymous survey or individually email those who are impacted. Ask, and listen to what is said.
Wayfinding is the process of informing and guiding people around a physical space. Use digital signage and employee communications to provide clear wayfinding so those who may be unfamiliar with your office space can easily navigate it on their own. There is nothing worse than needing the restroom and not being able to find it.
Plan out meeting details to make all audiences feel connected and engaged during the meeting and after. Account for personality differences when introducing new employees. Some may be more outgoing than others.
However you decide to proceed, we suggest showing incredible empathy, appreciation, and encouragement to your team members. We have all just survived the unthinkable, causing many of us to rethink the trajectory of our lives, and a fourth of the workforce is considering a career change as a result.6
Now is the time for office fun, hospitality, professional coaching, and excellent managers prioritizing people over process. Get in the habit of surveying your teams and making two-way communication a regular part of your company culture and human resource process. The companies that focus on the human elements of business will thrive post-pandemic.