How ‘return to office’ will change employee behaviour

Now that people have adapted themselves to remote working, will being asked to return to office bring about major changes in employee behaviour? Will dealing with behavioural changes in the workforce be the next major challenge for employers?

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Many IT giants, such as TCS and Infosys are keen to call all their employees to the office. In fact, they are prepping to open their office starting September 2021. However, we still have to understand and acknowledge the fact that irrespective of divided opinions on ‘return to office’ and the ideal capacity at which to operate, it has been almost a year and a half since people started working from home. At first, most employees were really delighted that they could avoid the cumbersom commute to work and spend more time with their family members, but after working remotely for a while, many started to understand that home can never replace the workplace.

Many houses in India, especially in a city like Mumbai, are too small and unfit for office work. It wasn’t long before people started facing problems such as extended work hours and burnouts due to immense workload. Managing house and office work at the same time started taking a toll on professionals. Then came the second wave of the pandemic, driving home the harsh reality that remote work is here to stay for a long time. When this realisation dawned, people once again resigned themselves to the work-from-home situation and started to adjust their lives and routines accordingly. Now, they have more or less adapted themselves to the remote-working model. Calling them to work from office, full time, after all this while, will naturally create challenges for employers.

“I believe customised managerial roles will emerge to fulfil business needs and to provide personalisation to all employees and meet their needs. Companies may have to create roles meant to fulfil or attend to the personal needs of employees”

Unmesh Pawar, senior HR leader

The biggest challenge would be the change in employee behaviour. After over 18 months of tweaking their daily routines around work-from-home, these employees will now need interventions on the part of their employers to help them mentally re-adjust to the long-forgotten office routine. While most may be physically present in the office, mentally they will be in the remote-working mode.

Reetu Raina, CHRO, Quick Heal, agrees that there has been a psychological shift in people as they have all adapted to remote working, and if they are asked to work full time at the office, companies will certainly have to deal with some behavioural changes.

Collaboration issues: Employees have been working in silos most of the time. On returning to office, it will be difficult for them to accept interruptions, such as people peeking at their screens or their work. As a result, some employees may also find it tough to collaborate with others and build bonds like old times.

Sharing issues: People have, by now, come to accept their own workspace at home. In fact, they have probably even started loving that fixed and private ‘my space’, which is all theirs. On the other hand, in the office, they will be part of a common workspace that has to be shared with other team members. It will definitely not be easy at first to get used to sharing space or even having people around.

Supervision issues: During remote work, employees did not have managers calling them or checking on them every few minutes. Therefore, once they return to office, they will expect the same pattern to continue and will be averse to being micromanaged by their managers and supervisors. “When office resumes, managers cannot afford to micromanage at all,” tells Raina.

“When office resumes, managers cannot afford to micromanage at all”

Reetu Raina, CHRO, Quick Heal

Raina suggests that companies employ some learning and development modules to help develop behaviours of team building and collaboration in employees, so that psychologically they can get back to normal. At some point, employers may even have to consider accepting certain behavioural changes.

Unmesh Pawar, senior HR leader, believes that human beings are used to adjusting themselves to situations. In fact, he rightly points out that a larger number of employees would want to come back to offices because they do not have proper workstations at home. Citing the example of cities like Mumbai, where space comes at a premium, he draws attention to the fact that not all employees have proper workspaces at home.

Additionally, expectations of employees will also change along with their behaviour. Many people have come to realise that remote work and work from home is possible with limited impact on productivity. Therefore, many already consider flexibility as a must-have policy at work, rather than just a perk. “Earlier, employees worked from home only in particular situations, but now, they will start demanding it,” feels Raina.

“I believe customised managerial roles will emerge to fulfil business needs and to provide personalisation to all employees and meet their needs. Companies may have to create roles meant to fulfil or attend to the personal needs of employees,” shares Pawar.

Pawar does, however, insist on employees getting back to office, as he feels it will make them more disciplined in some ways. They will be forced to start planning their work and scheduling activities in advance to avoid wasting time.

Besides, there will be more emphasis on the hygiene factor at the workplace. People will be more cautious about touching surfaces and getting close to people.

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