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The People Operations guide to get the workplace humming again
Return to office

The People Operations guide to get the workplace humming again

Aishwarya Jain
March 16, 2023

2020 seemed like the worst of it all but come 2021, that clearly isn't so for parts of the world where the second wave is hitting hard.

Most organizations have come to realize that the pandemic is a marathon and much less a sprint. Workforces around the world are tackling this situation in different ways to plan and bring people back to office. Remote work might always be an option but a certain percentage will and are slowly heading back to office.

While the CEO and HR are certainly at the apex of the pyramid to decide and delegate tasks for returning to office, the often undermined People Operations executive is proving to have a much more major and vital role in the return to office strategy.

What must People Operations prepare for in order to orchestrate a smooth entry into the workplace? In this blog, I will try to outline a framework and guideline for People Operations to think about while they plan to bring back employees to the workplace.

Is People Operations the same as HR?

A common question that most people ask but to clarify - in most organizations, People Operations falls under the umbrella of HR management. They do have similar daily tasks but People Operations is more employee-centric. It also includes tasks like monitoring employee productivity, keeping track of HR metrics, answering employee questions on compensation and benefits, overseeing technology needs of employees among others.

People Ops or People Operations are most inclined towards understanding individuals more holistically and empowering them towards more productivity by giving them the right tools they need from time-to-time for different job functions.

What has People Operations done for remote teams?

During the pandemic, People Operations played a vital role in understanding the requirements of many employees that were working from home for the first time. Wifi, laptops, phones, desks, stationery, noise canceling headphones are just some of the things remote teams need. People Ops also had to think of what software applications would remote teams require in order to be successful and more productive while also keeping a close watch on burnout levels.

Engagement and cultural development is also a key to the People Ops function that led to many reforms that they had to bring in during the pandemic for different styles of engagement. Retaining top talent and teams was the toughest part of their job throughout the pandemic.

How must People Operations think in order to get employees safely back to office?

Deloitte published a report on understanding the role of People Ops in the return to office era. It stated 5 primary objectives that align to the larger goals of Purpose, Potential, Perspective. The 5 Rs it states are - Reflect, Recommit, Re-engage, Rethink and Reboot and outlines each briefly in the image below.

The People Operations guide to get the workplace humming again | peopleHum
Source: Deloitte report - Strategies for post COVID-19 recovery

Are your employees ready to come back in?

People Operations must include a plan to survey their employees if they are ready to come to back to office just yet. Anything done against their will might not result in the best return to office strategy.

Use a survey tool such as the one that peopleHum provides to find out how many of your employees are actually interested to come back without hesitation. You may soon realize that there would be distinct groups classified based on their readiness to get back to office.

How to decide who can come back to office?

In a recent survey by Gartner, it is interesting to highlight that nearly half (48%) of large global organizations will not track the vaccination status of their employees. When asked about requiring employees to show proof of vaccination, only 8% of respondents reported that they will require it.

The People Operations guide to get the workplace humming again | peopleHum

Sure, a significant percentage of your employees might want to come back to office but are they critical to your organization to take the risk of letting them in, is the question to ask by People Ops and decide on a strategy. Think about segmenting your employees by their ability to work remotely and their level of productivity as well as check if they are in a business-critical function role.

You may have to devise batches depending on the number of employees that want to come back and if you have multiple meetings, it would be imperative to decide who comes in on which day for ensuring a safe comeback without overcrowding.

Download return to office checklists by Daniel Penn Associates here.

Is your office design suited for the post-pandemic workplace?

According to Mercer's report on the design of work, creating 6-feet or 10-feet personal perimeter areas will be the golden standard moving forward. It may be common to have diagonally-facing cubicles with glass partitions everywhere. Solving for sanitizer stations after every block will also need to be a consideration. Instead of carpets and soft fabrics that carry more risk of breeding viruses and other infectious agents, offices will need to plan to replace them with hard, cleanable surfaces that are easy to maintain.

Think of contactless equipment everywhere, automated doors, QR code scanning at various places, colors to decode safety exits, guidelines posted across the office for employees to know what do during a pandemic emergency if someone was found positive or showed symptoms during office hours.

The People Operations guide to get the workplace humming again | peopleHum
 Source: Business Insider


How to communicate with your employees

Org-wide communication of important information with your employees is the obvious norm but more so maybe the transparent and open communication of making everyone aware about the risks we face and about mental well being which is the most pertinent topic of all.

People Operations must bring to the forefront all the awkwardness around sensitive topics and clearly talk about the different way they are tackling it or plan to. Communication on future plans must not be held back till the last moment but instead constant communication even though it may be a repeat should be done consistently and regularly.

Use tools like peopleHum to make announcements easily through our mobile app for Android and iOS.

How to train your management for workforce re-entry

People Operations already looked at training their leaders and team managers to effectively solve the pandemic related problems of emergencies, healthcare for families, mental wellbeing of their teams and constantly engaging them with positivity by doing fun events outside of work.

Now as we plan to return to offices, it is imperative for managers to learn how to cope with anxiety related to office healthcare measures, meeting employees face-to-face, getting ready to face the commute hour. Even the minutest of things can affect employees in some way or the other - managers must be trained by People Ops to handle them with sensitivity and utmost care as we have turned into a fragile population in many ways.

Return To Office solutions like peopleHum can help implement such courses for managers for agile management and training before you plan workforce re-entry.

In conclusion

People Operations must now not only align with HR to revise policies and guidelines but also think broadly of the consequences they may have on employees while charting them out. It helps to think that the worst of the pandemic may be behind us and we can together plan to improve wellbeing of our employees.

return to office- peoplehum

Don't just plan for the short-term though, inherit resiliency and sustainability for the long haul to shield your workplace from any biological disaster that may arise in the future. Leverage tech and tools like peopleHum that can help not only help your HR and People Operations but even your employees ease into their diverse and flexible roles during tough times.

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