Getting back to the office: How Arkansas businesses can make the change

Getting back to the office is a challenge not unique to Northwest Arkansas. Many areas throughout the Midwest, South and coastal regions have begun transition back to something that looks like pre-pandemic corporate normalcy—or at least some hybrid of the world we’ve been living in for the past 18 months and business as usual before the end of 2019. 

Many leaders will view this as a light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel situation where they have triumphantly and against terrible odds emerged from the pandemic trial and tribulations to carry on as if they never happened. While I understand this outlook and desire to go back to a time we consider more prosperous and stable, this could be disastrous for the NWA workforce whose professional lives transformed at least twice in less than two years. 

So, while we are getting back to the office, what can we as leaders do to facilitate a smooth transition? Actually, that’s pretty simple. We can do what we should have been doing before. 

Where we came from—where we’re at

In order to keep a lot of people safe from a virus we didn’t understand, many businesses began to use remote tech like never before: communicating multiple times a day, leaning on project management software, powering through the hiccups and maintaining productivity in ways most of us probably didn’t anticipate. 

People settled into this new reality with no clear date for its departure—and that has created some gaps in the narrative that need to be addressed with consistent and effective messaging.

Give direction and provide context

Getting back to the office after what we all have been through is bound to bring up some concerns about health and safety. The workforce and other leaders will want reassurances and information that address these concerns. Providing access to this information and updated safety protocols is of the utmost importance when creating working environments that function within a post-pandemic professional world. 

Also, since returning to the office, some employees might wonder where they fit amongst any restructuring that has occurred since their remote status began. Earnest praise and constructive criticism will show you have taken an active interest in their professional development and that you recognize their value to the team and this version of the greater organization.

A culture of connection

When we have friends at work, we tend to engage more, creating company cultures we feel comfortable in—cultures that we helped create and have a stake in maintaining. While attempts were made to replicate this connection on the digital level, I think we all know how hard that is to do without a physical presence. Providing opportunities for the workforce to not only reconnect with the office work environment but also with each other is essential to getting back the next version of what we had before. 

If folks are worried, let them say so

We never want those we are responsible for to feel like they cannot voice their concerns for fear of public ridicule, criticism, or reprisal. Leaders must show they are willing to begin these conversations in an effort to address worries and alleviate anxieties that might prevent employees from successfully working within their roles. 

Having these conversations will also create opportunities for your contributors to reconnect with your goals, identify problem areas, suggest solutions, and create a sense of belonging.

Getting back to the office is something that some of us have been wanting, others have been dreading, and still others have been hoping for some compromise found in a hybrid solution. At Cameron Smith & Associates, we are focused on assisting our clients in getting back to the office in whatever way serves them best.

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