Best Practices For Businesses Who Are Going Back to the Office

Consistency and lack of confusion—let’s call it clarity—are key elements of employee happiness.

Answer by Kara Govro, Chief HR Legal Expert

With organizations starting to reopen offices, what are the best practices to ensure consistency, avoid confusion, and keep employees happy? originally appeared on Quora, the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Consistency and lack of confusion—let’s call it clarity—are key elements of employee happiness, but they play a supporting role in executing on your company culture and practices. So let’s talk about the more complex question first: what is going to make employees happy? What are those elements of culture and those company practices that will boost morale and reduce turnover, especially in this wild labor market?

Keeping Employees Happy

Just a few months ago, Mineral and Toronto-based research firm ONR created a study called “The State of HR,” which sought to understand how organizations are navigating their HR work function post-pandemic.* Although the study participants were HR and compliance decision-makers (2,644 of them), early results reveal a lot about what employees respond well to in the current market. Below are some findings that we think are key to employee happiness.


After two years of modified and often fully remote work, employees know things can be done differently. And in this labor market they also know how valuable they are. This shows up as a desire (or outright demand) for flexibility, which can be summarized in five main elements.

  • Offering flexible scheduling and working hours
  • Offering flexible remote and hybrid work options
  • Proactively reviewing market wages to update compensation targets
  • Tailoring benefits to specific employee situations to enable the highest quality of life
  • Considering employee quality of life when making compensation decisions

The organizations that are delivering on these elements are seeing tangible results. Over the last year, they were five times more likely to report elevated employee morale, six times more likely to report an improved ability to hire, and three times more likely to report increased workforce productivity.

Of course, not every employer will be able to offer all of these, but don’t let perfect get in the way of progress. Maybe you can’t do flexible schedules right now, but you can offer some unique or valuable benefits. Perhaps you can’t pay a cent more than you already do, but with a little creativity you can allow employees to modify their schedules or work from home. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing and even small improvements can increase morale and make you more attractive to applicants.

Attention to mental health is also proving to be essential right now. From concerns about physical safety, to homeschooling, to furloughs and layoffs, employees have had a lot of “extras” added to their mental load over the last few years. And although we didn’t need a survey to tell us that employees want their employers to care about them, the data showed a notable correlation between employers who focus on mental health and those who fared better during the pandemic.

Concern for mental health can show up as the types of flexibility mentioned above. Offer more time off, provide an Employee Assistance Program, cover the cost of meditation apps or gym memberships or doggy daycare. Showing that your organization cares doesn’t require that every manager become warm and fuzzy or touchy-feely. A little understanding when employees are burned out, along with tangible benefits that support mental health, can go a long way.

Ensuring Consistency and Clarity

As mentioned above, consistency and clarity are essential to supporting your company culture and making employees feel informed and safe in their roles. Thankfully, there’s a simple recipe for this that applies almost universally: carefully create policies, write them down, and share them with all employees. Also make sure that managers are trained on those policies. Sounds easy enough, but for the best results, each step will require some attention.

Carefully Create Policies

Anyone can create a policy in a matter of moments by just stating what they want. “Employees aren’t allowed to eat at their desks,” for instance. But is this the best policy to accomplish your goals? Is it legal? What are implications of enforcing it? If your goal is to prevent destruction of delicate hardware at employees’ desks, this ultra-quick policy is certainly an effective way to do that. But it’s also a blunt instrument. The result may be employees getting up frequently to snack in the lunchroom, drops in blood sugar leading to drops in productivity (or worse), and general malcontent with paternalistic rules. Requiring sealed beverage containers or asking employees to avoid crumbly foods (while perhaps silly-sounding) might be 95% as effective without causing loss of productivity and morale. When crafting policies, be sure to think through the consequences and solicit input from those who will be required to enforce them.

Write Them Down

This one’s a gimme. A written policy is much easier to enforce, particularly if signed-off on. It’s also more likely to be accurately communicated to employees when written down. The alternative—creating policies through oral tradition—is likely to result in five, ten, or fifty versions of the intended policy, and is rather like playing a game of workplace telephone.

Share it with Employees

A policy in a drawer is no good to anyone, and a poorly communicated policy is sometimes worse. Although you might get away with disciplining employees for violating policies they are only hazily aware of it’s a surefire way to destroy trust. And the point of a policy is not the power to punish but the ability to run your organization efficiently. To accomplish that end, employees need to know about your carefully crafted and well-written policies.

Adding policies to your handbook and getting all employees to sign-off on the addition is the most important step when it comes to future enforcement. But people learn in different ways, so having managers communicate policy changes orally can offer a significant boost to compliance. This is where we come back to managers being trained. They should feel comfortable in explaining a new policy’s ins and out and empowered to enforce it or to phone a friend (HR) if they’re feeling stuck.

Finally (in this very brief primer!), don’t forget to explain why you’re creating a new policy. When people understand why something is happening, buy-in is significantly higher, and buy-in is good for everyone.

*This study sought to measure organization-level HR outcomes, evaluate different areas of the HR function, examine the strategies and actions that companies have deployed before and after the pandemic, understand how they have built their HR function and workforce and, lastly, gauge the post-pandemic outlook for HR. The full report will be published later this summer.

This question originally appeared on Quora.

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