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The COVID Workplace: What Your Boss Should Do to Keep You Happy

Newsweek logo Newsweek 8/25/2021 Louis Carter
PER Lou Carter Work © Angelina Bambina/Getty PER Lou Carter Work

This October, Newsweek and the Best Practice Institute will unveil our inaugural list of "100 Most Loved Workplaces in America." Based on the months of research that we've just wrapped up, here's one thing these companies have in common: the ability to collaborate and communicate clearly with their employees. For many of these companies, though, that skill will be put to the test over the next few months like it never has before.

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Of course, we can thank COVID for that.

Things were getting better on the pandemic front this spring and through the early summer, largely because of vaccines, until COVID threw a curve ball with the Delta variant. Despite the fact that infection rates are once again rising, many employers have still asked folks to return to work in person. This ain't going to be easy.

Masks? No masks? Distancing? Not so much distancing? Vaccine mandates? Purell mandates? The transition will be dicey. But there are things employers can do, other than cross fingers, to make sure the transition goes smoothly.

Here are three things good companies can implement. The common link between them? Genuine consideration for employees.

1. Establish a Dialogue

Organizations can run into serious trouble demanding employees come back to the mothership without involving them in the decision-making process. A company-wide email announcement, for instance, is a sure way to create a bunch of disgruntled employees. Workers, in response, may not come back at all.

Instead, involve them in the process. It should never be an abrupt order. Create a dialogue. Find out the ideal transition for the employee. In other words, ask them.

Such collaboration builds upon the foundation of trust that pandemic working has built. Conduct surveys to determine what parts of remote working employees enjoyed and what parts of office work they missed. Use those conversations to build a plan. Of course, not everyone will be happy. But I can guarantee that more employees will be happy if you bring them into the circle of trust.

2. Provide Options

You may want all your workers back in the office and a return to the good old days of in-person collaboration. But I can promise you this: It's not going to be all or nothing.

A company that has designed its office space for spontaneous, water-cooler conversations, must create these experiences virtually or in-person. Employees who picked that company for such flexibility will get on board. Other employees, however, may want the all-or-nothing approach—all remote or all in-office. Others will be looking for a combination of the two.

3. Be Flexible

No one can tell you how the return-to-work movement is going to shake out, especially with the Delta variant disrupting just about everything. Employers were really flexible when the shift to remote work happened and, in many cases, it worked.

Do that again!

There will be workers who require special accommodations—say two days in the office and three at home. Maybe they have children at home and no help. Maybe they have weak immune systems. Who knows? The key is to be flexible and be prepared to continue to operate under a number of circumstances.

Be prepared to change everything, as the pandemic has taught us. But don't forget rule No. 1: Collaborate.

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Louis Carter is founder and CEO of Best Practice Institute and author of more than 10 books including Change Champion's Field Guide, In Great Company and Best Practices in Talent Management. Thought leaders and executives voted him as one of Global Gurus Top 10 Organizational Culture thinkers worldwide.

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