Employee Benefit News (EBN)

Employees Miss the Office: How to Mimic Your In-Person Culture for a Virtual World

Employees are looking for a fresh start in the new year, and for many, that means wiping the dust off their old cubicles and heading back to work.

Credit: Employee Benefit News / Unsplash

Eighty-seven percent of workers are ready to work from the office in 2022, according to a survey by OnePoll, a market research provider. Sixty percent say they want to meet new coworkers and catch up with their old ones, and 48% are looking forward to a return of in-person meetings.

But with omicron cases on the rise and pandemic uncertainty a persistent challenge, less than half of those surveyed actually think they will be returning to the physical office. Just 14% are currently spending time at an in-person workplace, the survey found.

For employers, it may be time to redefine what work in a COVID world looks like, as opposed to waiting for things to return to the way they once were, says Steve Pemberton, chief human resources officer at Workhuman, a workforce management solutions firm.

Read more: This CHRO wants employers to redefine ‘work’ beyond a COVID world 

“The COVID-19 situation continues to evolve and, in some ways, improve with vaccinations, but that doesn’t mean that the way work gets done will revert back to pre-pandemic ways,” he says. “Managers need to dismantle their processes and schedules, which were built in a different time, and re-think them to prioritize flexibility, agility and collaboration.”

That will require communication, something employees are craving while working remote. While many of the employees surveyed by OnePoll listed human interactions as a main reason for returning to the office, that sense of collaboration and togetherness can be mimicked in the virtual world, too.

“The pandemic has lasted longer than anyone anticipated, so HR has a lot to consider when it comes to supporting employees,” says Anne Fulton, CEO of Fuel50, an employee engagement platform. “It's going to be about figuring out how we enable people to be at their best and to be productive and take care of their health as we did in the office.”

Read more: Company culture will play a critical role in employee attraction and retention

However, many employees have discovered that virtual communications are their preferred way of engaging: OnePoll found that 66% of employees feel anxiety around making small talk with their coworkers and bosses, and 60% would like to work from home permanently to avoid social awkwardness.

Whatever happens this new year, continuing to be transparent and open about what’s to come should be a best practice, Pemberton says.

“Business leaders will need to continue investing time, resources and effort in programs that help build and maintain their company culture and help their humans stay connected, productive and engaged,” he says. “The pendulum swung far to one side when the world was forced into isolation and it’s now swinging back as people want to be connected, and most importantly, together.”