Keylen Villagrana shares tips for businesses that are considering bringing workers back into the office.

COURTESY - Keylen VillagranaRethinking your workplace post-pandemic is requiring, well, a lot of thought.

Rising vaccination rates are allowing COVID-19 precautions to ease, and now business owners are tasked with creating and implementing return-to-work plans for their teams. There's a lot riding on what they decide.

Employee expectations aren't what they used to be. After more than a year of remote work, employees now know that a traditional 9-to-5, in-office format doesn't always have to be a part of their professional pursuits. In fact, the reappearance of commutes and cubicles is already causing workers to consider quitting.

Some prominent companies are currently learning that lesson the hard way. Apple's decision to have employees return to the office three days a week resulted in internal backlash. Negative employee criticism of the return-to-work plan Amazon originally announced earlier this spring forced it to add more flexibility into an updated policy.

Your business may not be operating at the same level as those two tech giants, but if your return-to-work plan doesn't align with your team's needs, their issues could soon be yours. That's especially true when you consider that many companies are struggling to hire. Employees hold a lot of leverage right now.

So, how does your business formulate a post-pandemic plan that won't cause your staff to jump ship? Better Business Bureau compiled some suggested steps and considerations to help you navigate the process.

• Employee feedback. Requesting and listening to feedback from your team is a great first step. Share a return-to-work survey, or maybe host a virtual town hall. You can even implement tools for collecting your staff's thoughts.

• 3 Ws (who, where and when). Determine when employees should be required to work, where that work should be performed, and who will be impacted. Do some departments need to be in an office to perform their work? Should everyone work remotely on the same day(s) of the week? Does everyone need to be available at the same core hours every day?

• Collaboration and availability. Identify which communication channels should be used and in what circumstances, as well as establish when meetings are better suited to be held in-person vs. remotely. Does the organization believe certain types of collaboration are better supported at the workplace? Do they understand the dynamics of a meeting that suggests it would be better held in the workplace rather than remotely?

• Process time. Providing the details of your finalized return-to-work plan in advance of its official start date gives team members space to adjust, especially those transitioning back into the office.

• Be transparent. Don't announce the plan without providing some context. Explain how employee feedback connected with other resources you leaned on to create the work format you feel best fits your team and benefits the organization.

• Don't make anything permanent. Calls for employee feedback have to continue so you can accurately measure your plan's effectiveness, and then make changes based on the insight they share. You may find that your hybrid plan will need to lean a little heavier toward remote work or shift closer toward a more in-office format.

Bottom line: You don't have to guess or assume how your employees feel about a potential move back to the workplace. Gather those opinions directly from the ones who hold them. Plus, seeking out their thoughts may help the team feel like they're in on the decision, and that can lead to higher levels of engagement across your organization.

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Keylen Villagrana is a content and public relations specialist for the Better Business Bureau Great West & Pacific, which serves more than 20 million consumers in Alaska, central Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and western Wyoming.

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