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Navigating the ‘return to work’ conundrum

How are hybrid working conversations going in your organisation?

Are you iterating as you go and testing new ways of working, or have you reverted to pre-pandemic plans?

Last year we launched an All Things IC Online Masterclass to support internal communicators.

An internal communicator’s guide to hybrid working includes lessons to help you consider:

  • What changes do you need to make to your IC channels?
  • My CLEAR model.
  • The importance of language.
  • The role of leaders and managers in a hybrid world.
  • What’s the purpose of your office space?
  • Why you need to focus on wellbeing.
  • The impact of working patterns on culture.

Further listening: Candid Comms Podcast episode: How to communicate hybrid working.

Course testimonial from Chantel Dixon

Today I have a guest post for you by Helen Trueman, Internal Communications Manager at CDL. She’s here to share CDL’s experiences to date and how they welcomed employees back to their physical locations.

I’ll hand you over…

Navigating the ‘return to work’ conundrum

As we emerge from Covid-19, views on whether or how to coax employees back to the office are myriad, complex and often emotive.

Underlying the debate, there is generally an assumption that remote working comes at a cost, with organisational culture, training and development, and workforce morale often the most readily cited.

CDL was no different. Having invested millions in creating a state-of-the-art Campus with a great working environment, there was a certain frustration on behalf of those now required to ‘make do’ at the kitchen table.

On the other hand, there was no doubt that we had adapted to remote working almost effortlessly. MS Teams, a SharePoint intranet and a news site were already well established in CDL so we had the technology, and the commitment, to thrive.

And that is exactly what we did. We maintained productivity, we maximised our channels and we continued to invest in our new working environment, helping to ensure people’s home set-up was as ergonomically-friendly as it possibly could be.

This was extremely positive, to the extent that the jury was out on the benefits of returning to site. We had already proved that ‘work’ was not defined by a physical location and the findings of a colleague survey on what a return to Campus might look like was split down the middle, with 48% in favour of returning, while 52% preferred to remain at home.

It became clear that a hybrid model would be the way forward.

Photo of Helen Trueman. Text: Navigating the return to work conundrum

Campus culture

CDL’s Campus culture had long been a fundamental part of our recruitment proposition, enabling people to come together to collaborate, innovate, and have fun. We believe that being together in person creates opportunities to do this in ways that are hard to replicate behind a screen.

We are also keen to get back to running events for charity, for our community and of course – for team-building and socialising.

A plan was devised to commence hybrid working in earnest from September 2022, when people will be encouraged to work on Campus for a minimum of two days per fortnight. In the meantime, we re-opened our Campus in April, inviting colleagues to attend “Welcome Back” events, designed to re-orientate our people back to in-person work.

Having prioritised the health and safety of our people throughout the pandemic, we deferred the re-opening of Campus until the Government removed all restrictions and reassured the nation that it was safe; a decision that has been valued by colleagues.

Returning to in-person work

Following our colleague survey, we recognised that while some people cannot wait to come back to Campus, others feel more anxious. The “Welcome Back” events are designed to support people with their return, offering a two-hour guided Campus tour and complimentary meal with their tour cohort in the on-site Zone restaurant.

The tour takes in the new quiet zones, collaboration spaces and bookable desks. There are also Teams-enabled meeting rooms to facilitate hybrid working, and attendees are informed about practicalities such as parking, mini-bus times, and restaurant opening times, particularly valuable for those who have joined CDL since the pandemic and are on Campus for the first time.

Attendees are given a health and safety update including Covid-19 protocols, and they meet with our IT teams to ensure their laptops are set up for hot-desking.

Everyone receives a “Welcome Box” with branded gifts, suggestion cards for feedback about events they would like to see on Campus and, importantly, their Zone meal voucher. The group of 15 dine together, enabling new starters to sit beside longer serving colleagues and have those long-awaited “water cooler” moments, where they can meet people that they would not ordinarily bump into in a virtual world. It also allows old friends and colleagues to have an in-person chat over a real cup of coffee in their familiar Campus café.

These in-person events are supported by a communication site on our intranet, with FAQs, floorplans, and details of how to book. We are also running virtual Q&A sessions for those who have not yet returned, and providing hybrid working training for line managers.

CDL welcome back event showing people sitting at a table celebrating

Feedback so far

The “Welcome Back” events have been well received, scoring on average 4 out of 5 in feedback ratings. People have commented on the “friendly welcome”, that the welcome box “is a lot of fun” and they now “can’t wait to get back to work on Campus”. We have a selfie board in our foyer where people have been having fun taking photos with “It’s good to be back” speech bubbles!

The small group size has worked well, facilitating more personal conversations, while allowing those who wish to remain socially distant to do so.

We are taking the opportunity to refine which aspects of hybrid working are going well, and where we need to make improvements, using regular listening sessions to get feedback. We completely accept that, as a new way of working, we will need to adapt and evolve to ensure that our culture continues to be one that our people are proud of, and want to be part of.

Post author: Helen Trueman.

Thank you for sharing your experiences Helen.

Do you have a story to share with other in-house internal communicators? We love featuring you on the blog. Please see the guidelines and get in touch.

Thank you for stopping by

Rachel.

Rachel Miller.

All Things IC Masterclasses

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