A bit more than two years ago, a majority of the working world found themselves in what many would begin to call “the New Normal” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who were not considered “essential workers” and were fortunate enough to remain employed were asked to transition to some form of nonstandard work arrangement, whether it was working remotely, working in more socially distant, masked-up workplaces, or some other way. It’s safe to say the pandemic flung the working world into a period of discomfort. Some were unsure of the effectiveness of remote workers, while others embraced the more flexible working conditions. Thankfully, resources were made available (including some posted on this blog!) to help leaders remain effective during this period of uncertainty and isolation, and many businesses were able to withstand the effects of the pandemic. As the gravity of the pandemic has begun to ebb, many companies are now considering the transition back to an in-person workplace with some companies more eager to return to work than others. For example, on June 1, Elon Musk announced a new policy at Tesla, requiring employees to spend a minimum of 40 hours a week in-person. Although the policy has sparked a lot of controversy, even more importantly, it has raised questions about whether companies should make the transition back to more traditional work arrangements and, if so, how to best make the transition.

Remote Work

All companies are different. Culture and other organization-specific, contextual factors will always have an impact on the effectiveness of various organizational policies, and flexible work arrangements are no exception. Regardless, research in Industrial/Organizational Psychology is able to shed some light on the effectiveness of remote work policies for business in general, and the results suggests the employees who work remotely have significantly higher autonomy, job performance (as rated by supervisors), and quality relationships with their supervisors. Additionally, they have significantly lower stress about their roles and have marginal differences in other outcomes including but not limited to job satisfaction, turnover intentions, and perceived career prospects compared to those working in-person. As mentioned before, it is not a guarantee that all organizations will experience these benefits equally, but the results are encouraging for companies who may want to continue their flexible work policies in a post-pandemic world.

How to Transition Back to “Normal”

If your company has decided to make the transition back to in-person work, it is important to understand that there will be many mixed feelings. Some will have anxiety and discomfort about returning to work, while others will look forward to it. Here are some tips to help you manage the transition:

  • Give employees the option to choose where and how they work. For example, some companies have adopted a wristband/lanyard system which allows employees to communicate their level of comfort with physical interactions in the workplace.
  • Provide employees with the ability to express their concerns about the transition.
  • Communicate with your team(s) as much as possible, listen to their worries, and establish a psychologically safe environment.
  • Provide your team(s) with formal and informal opportunities to establish or re-establish relationships with one another and refamiliarize themselves with social interactions at work.