Back to work: encouraging your teams with things familiar and new

In the Northern Europe region many employers have realized that it’s now time to encourage their employees to return to the workplace and try to restore some sense of normality to daily life. What is the best way to do this? The transition will depend upon the employer’s ability to combine the right levels of encouragement and trust. These principles are built upon a sense of shared purpose and an environment which promotes employee well-being.

What will be the long-term impact of the pandemic on working life? In Sweden, 73% of workers have said that a mixture of remote and office working, the hybrid work model, would be most desirable moving forward. However, there will be plenty of others who are reticent to return to the office at all. They’ve now spent a long time working from home, not needing to commute on busy public transport and getting used to more time with their partners and children.

I think it is going to be important to encourage workers back into the office rather than demand their return. It is better to focus on making the return to the office attractive, rather than to present it as a “duty” or even a punishment.

Focus on what is important

As a business leader, it’s always important to set priorities. As we try to inspire our teams with a genuine desire to return to the workplace, we must accentuate the positives and focus on their needs.

According to research by Boston Consulting, “Employee engagement and wellbeing” is the single most important aspect of returning to work for employees in the Nordics today. The key is making employees feel both more valued and more valuable. Your teams have been siloed and isolated for a long time now, attending countless Zoom and Teams calls, probably working in less-than-ideal workspaces, often at makeshift desks. This all takes its toll and will have had different degrees of impact on different people’s mental health.

One way to give employees greater confidence to return to the workplace is to provide opportunities to contribute to teamwork and social interaction. Research by McKinsey has found that 70% of workers say their sense of purpose is defined by their work. By giving your people greater purpose in the job itself, you can help them enjoy it more. Because while attempting to add new, positive reasons to come back into the office, you must remember that you’re also asking employees to give up things like that extra free time and flexibility.

The emerging role of purpose

You should also aim to define a collective purpose, which is a great driver to job satisfaction and workplace engagement. Giving your teams purpose in their job roles can be understood as effective communication of “why” your organization does things. It explains why you do what you do in philosophical terms that are clear and comprehensible. For example, the purpose statement of UNICEF is: “To work with others to overcome the obstacles that poverty, violence, disease and discrimination place in a child’s path.” Ford Motor Company’s purpose statement is: “To drive human progress through freedom of movement.” Your company’s purpose is an overarching statement that explains what your company stands for, and it can help inspire your workers and keep them motivated.

Orange aims to be “the trusted partner who gives everyone the keys to a responsible digital world,” and it’s a good illustration of the sort of purpose that can help workers feel appreciated parts of a larger whole. This helps to clarify individual roles within our enterprise so that our teams recognize the value they bring and are inspired to increase their contribution to our collective work. But it’s important to remember purpose isn’t just a piece of marketing or branding; it’s a guide that should inform how your company does everything.

Feeling actively involved in an overall collaborative goal like this can be a big boost to employees’ mental well-being. An increased focus on what your organization does and “why” you want to do it in that way can give your teams a deeper understanding of the value they bring to the company. This is backed up by PwC research, which found that 79% of business leaders say purpose is central to success. They believe that overall corporate success can foster a healthier, more positive environment that will encourage workers back into the workplace, rather than through force.

Where digital tools can help

Digital tools can play a role in improving worker engagement. Unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) tools have been a huge benefit during the work-from-home period, and they can continue to add value in the workplace itself. Workers are generally happier at work when they’re able to collaborate: in fact, they are 20% more satisfied with workplace culture when they have access to collaboration tools that enable them to work in teams. This has a knock-on effect on engagement, with workers saying they are 34% happier with their workplaces when collaboration is encouraged.

Giving workers more information about the health and safety of the workplace can also engender trust. Digital tools can help here, too: simple-to-use apps and interfaces that provide digital visualizations of spaces throughout your building along with their live occupancy status, plus things like air-quality information, can drive feelings of comfort and safety. Other smart-office solutions can add to the attraction of the office, with tools available to help reduce congestion and improve hygiene in shared spaces.

It all adds up to a transformation of your workplace culture. So much has changed in the way people see work in the past couple of years, so culture needs to change with it. Previously, when we thought about workplace culture, we probably tended to think about a common set of behaviors, plus the underlying mindsets of our employees in how they work and interact day to day. Now we need to focus even more on what we can do to make the workplace a more enticing and trusted place – where people wish to return. A healthy work culture also delivers business benefits: companies with healthy workplace cultures have three times higher financial returns to shareholders.

At Orange, our Engage 2025 strategic plan has a strong focus on purpose. Our goal is to work with purpose-led companies, and we’re also concentrating on how we can inspire our teams and help them make a smooth transition back into the workplace, aided by purpose. Our employees have adapted well to the crisis and helped us keep our business running through difficult times. The onus is now on employers to give back to their employees and encourage them back to work with a positive mix of culture, digital tools and support.

Read more about the Orange Engage 2025 strategic plan and how it informs the ways we do business and inspire our teams.

Simon Ranyard
Simon Ranyard

Simon Ranyard is Managing Director for Nordics, UK and Ireland at Orange Business Services and is based in London, England. With 20 years' experience in ICT in sales functions, Simon is driving a revenue growth plan by focusing on the innovative services that Orange can bring to its customers and on continuously improving the way we work with them.

In his spare time, Simon is a keen cricket fan and enjoys supporting youth development in the game.