In most organizations—those large and small and across industries—there is a group of employees who are part of a unique club. For these team members, it’s not their roles or seniority that they have in common. It’s their start date with the company: March 2020 to the present.
These are “the pandemic hires”—employees brought into organizations over the past year, even amid economic uncertainty, who have only ever known their company’s virtual and remote working culture. They have never visited their new office, met their coworkers, or even their bosses, in person.
I am one of these people. Starting at Capgemini as CHRO of North America in August, I understand the unprecedented position so many employees at organizations around the world are in. Even though I have been embraced by my colleagues and team members and feel a strong connection through the inclusive virtual work-from-home culture we have built, going into the office for the first time will be a new experience.
Related: “New normal” anxiety
As companies see a return to offices on the horizon (even if it is within a hybrid working model), they will need to be mindful of the new hires who, in many ways, will be experiencing a “first day on the job” when they go on-site. Leaders will need to integrate team members into the in-person and day-to-day interactions and workflows of the organization—with a smooth transition from the virtual working world.
Here are four areas leaders must focus on to ease the transition:
Even though these employees have been with the company for months, and in some cases a full year, it will be important to slowly integrate them into an in-person system. Many organizations are proposing hybrid working models where specific teams have a day or a week in the office at a time before rotating back to remote work. This process will allow employees who have only ever worked in a fully remote capacity to ease into the in-person experience and establish a sense of belonging and unity with the organization. Acclimating to face-to-face collaboration with their teammates and managers will be a crucial step as they settle into this new environment.
Ensure all employees feel safe
To create a positive work experience for employees entering their company’s offices for the first time, ensuring everyone feels safe—both physically and psychologically – will be paramount. Given the physical distancing that may be required, reduced office capacity will create its own unique dynamic for these teams—perhaps limiting how many people can be in a given room at the same time, or how spaced out they must be within an open office floor plan. Organizations are also implementing technology to promote health and safety within the workplace, which could be an adjustment not only for newer employees, but for the most tenured ones as well. But these initial adjustments will be well worth it, as having the necessary precautions in place can remove the distractions of any risk and allow teams to integrate into the in-office culture while feeling safe and secure.
New team rituals
Many teams have adopted virtual happy hours and trivia nights as new ways to promote team bonding in a remote setting. As the gradual return to the office progresses, leaders must have the autonomy to create new team rituals for their employees – supporting individual well-being and team cohesion in an adapted work environment. For pandemic hires, this will provide new experiences and benefits that were previously unavailable, such as team lunches or white-boarding sessions. Through these rituals, the in-person routine will also feel more established and permanent – instead of like an unfamiliar concept.
A trust-based culture
In the virtual working world, the amount of trust between leaders and their employees needed to be stronger than ever – without as much direct supervision. New pandemic-era hires have only ever known this culture of trust, and when they begin working in person, it’s crucial to maintain. Avoid micro-managing and continue to offer flexibility, while keeping touchpoints and check-ins consistent. Deploying a trust-based culture within the office will help to make the transition a seamless process, giving the employees confidence and support to execute projects and tasks – without feeling the pressure of too much oversight.
Looking toward the future of work
We all need anchor points, work-life balance, and a sense of purpose. Over the past year through remote work and virtual collaboration, organizations have achieved this in impressive ways. With a moderate re-integration of in-person work experiences, the possibilities will expand exponentially. The employees who were hired during the pandemic will always remember the unique beginning to their experience with your company, but with the right approach to their first exposure to in-office work, you can position them for a positive, long lasting journey of growth to get the future they want within the organization.
Tecla Palli Sandler is chief human resource officer for Capgemini North America.