Online writer Shara is thinking of asking her boss for a salary increase to help cover the additional food and transportation expenses she would incur when she returns to office later this month, a concern shared by many who will be uprooted from their work from home desks as the pandemic appeared to near its end.
The 25-year-old will set foot on her new office in Taguig City for the first time, being a pandemic hire herself. To prepare herself, Shara once tried a commuting dry-run.
“Ang dami na naming napag-usapan na concern ng officemates ko. Saan ba yung office, tapos paano ba yung magiging safety? Magco-commute ka, tapos pagdating mo sa office, paano ba yung magiging setup? Hindi mo alam kung anong magiging itsura ng office,” Shara told reportr.
“Siyempre, kahit feeling natin na wala nang COVID, nandiyan pa rin talaga siya. Paano ba yung office environment? Kung ikaw ang boss at hindi ka magda-dialogue sa employee, at least sana masagot mo yung questions nila in advance,” she added.
Shara shares the struggles of employees who are just as confused as to how the office setup would look like after more than two years of remote work. Apart from having to commute again, employees also have to contend with face-to-face interactions with colleagues whom they would most likely be meeting personally for the first time.
Communication is the key to addressing these return to office concerns, a human resources practitioner said. Employees should be ready to bring up their apprehensions to their managers, and bosses should be willing to assist them.
“It’s very important that the managers really assist their employees right now in transitioning from work from home to work in the office. Some of those employees were hired during the pandemic and they are more used to the work from home setup,” human resources consultant Rhonadale Florentino told reportr.
“So transitioning to work in the office would be a very big change for them given na more than two years na tayong naka-work from home,” she added.
What bosses need to know about return to office
As the remote work setup has been ongoing for more than two years, managers need to understand that employees have created their own work habits at home which could be difficult to break when return to office begins, Florentino said.
Because of this, it’s best for managers to make the transition to onsite work “as painless as possible,” she added.
“The first thing that a manager has to do is to make sure that the work in the office setup is something that's actually beneficial to the company. Kasi that's the first question that the employees would be asking, ‘Why do we have to work in the office?’” Florentino said.
“If it's something that can be done from the comfort of their home, bakit kailangan mo pa silang i-transition to work in the office?” she added.
Managers also should not rush into requiring all employees to return to office, according to Florentino, as this could cause resistance from those who have been used to working from home.
“Kailangan unti-unti yan. Start mo muna sa once a week, twice a week, thrice a week, hanggang sa they get used to the idea of working again in the office,” she said.
To make return to office easier for employees, Florentino said managers should put more focus on the output rather than number of hours rendered to measure productivity.
“You have to be flexible in terms of how they are going to handle yung kanilang schedule. For the past two years, they are used to getting up 30 minutes before their schedule, so i-expect mo that there would be tardiness in the first few months ng pagbalik nila sa office,” she said.
“If you want to do away with that tardiness, make sure that you focus on the output,” she added.
How can your boss help you adjust?
As the world slowly transitions to the new normal and employees are being asked to work onsite, here are some questions you can ask your boss to make return to office more manageable:
What will the office look like?
Even as many areas in the country have been downgraded to Alert Level 1, minimum health protocols should remain in place. Make it a point to your boss that sanitation procedures should be followed, face masks are required, and social distancing should still be observed in the office.
“Kapag nakita ni employee na nandun pa rin lahat, strikto pa rin, mas kampante ako na 'I would give this work in the office another chance kasi nakikita ko naman na our employer is really taking sanitation and social distancing very very seriously,’” Florentino said.
Can I ask for a one-on-one session?
A one-on-one session with their bosses can help employees prepare mentally and emotionally for return to office. When there is time, ask your manager to talk to you about the new work environment and what can be done to make things more easier at the workplace.
“Managers themselves also have to be proactive. Hindi pwedeng hihintayin pa nila si employee to ask for, let's say, one-on-one, or workshops, or webinars, dapat sila rin mismo proactive na. If you want the employees to return to work, you have to make sure that they see it in a positive light,” Florentino said.
How can you help me get to know my colleagues?
It’s possible that you will be seeing your officemates in person for the first time. To introduce employees with each other, managers can hold team meetings social mixers, games, or even office food parties.
“Lahat tayo dumaan sa pagkabata, and our most cherished memories are playing, so do it that way. Introduce them via game, so pwede kang mag-human bingo, do the team building,” Florentino said.
Can I still do my hobbies while working at the office?
Habits, especially those that you developed while working from home, may be hard to break. Your boss should understand that employees can still be productive at the office while doing their hobbies, so they have to make room for that when return to office begins.
“Instead of having a very rigid environment, you have to be flexible. Gusto mong manood ng Netflix habang nagtatrabaho ka? Go ahead basta siguraduhin mo your outputs, deliverables for the day, they are in your boss' desk by the end of the day,” Florentino said.
In the end, the first step to make return to office easier for you and your officemates is taking up your concerns with your manager. Make it as comprehensive as possible, so your boss would see the benefits of your suggestions, Florentino said.
“Your immediate head should now kung ano ba yung mga concerns mo, suggestions mo, recommendations mo. Work with your immediate head on how you can have it implemented,” she added.
Rhonadale Florentino is a human resources consultant and strategist who serves as CEO and President of UpRush Social Geekers, an HR consultancy company. Access their services here.