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How re-onboarding eases the transition to a hybrid workplace
Kat Boogaard

Kat Boogaard

Writer, Culture Amp

You’re probably familiar with the concept of onboarding. It’s the process of getting a new hire up to speed with your organization’s procedures, as well as acquainting them with your company culture and workplace. On the other hand, re-onboarding refers to the process of helping an employee transition to a hybrid or in-person environment.

For the last couple of years, the COVID-19 pandemic turned the entire working world on its head, with many existing employees working away from the office for long stretches of time. This period was especially challenging for new hires, who may have never seen your physical office or met their coworkers face-to-face.

As businesses start to look at transitioning to hybrid work environments or back to full-time office life, many workers find themselves in an uncomfortable position where they’re expected to return to an environment that no longer feels, or perhaps never felt, familiar.

How does re-onboarding work?

A CNBC survey indicates that nearly half of major U.S. companies intend to move forward with a hybrid work model. As more businesses start bringing staff back to the office, even part-time, some employees may find the transition jarring. That’s where re-onboarding comes in.

The idea is simple: take all of your employees through an onboarding process as if it was day one. Bring them together for introductions. Offer refreshers on policies like dress codes and safety rules. Most importantly, focus on answering questions, addressing concerns, and making your employees feel comfortable, heard, and valued.

Why is re-onboarding necessary?

Many (if not most) workplaces are experiencing significant turmoil. The pandemic has caused unprecedented upheaval, forcing many people into lengthy work-from-home situations. Turnover is astonishingly high right now. Perhaps worst of all, nobody really knows what’s coming next. All of this uncertainty creates a stressful work environment for team members at every level.

Long-term employees may feel as if they’ve lost their footing. Some may even feel like they have the first-day jitters all over again. Meanwhile, employees that started during the height of the pandemic, and have only worked remotely, may feel they’re being thrust into a brand new and completely unknown environment. They don’t know what “business as usual” looks like for their organization.

The return to the office may bring a return to previous cultural norms that weren’t conveyed through email threads, Slack messages, and Zoom meetings. Both long-term and newer employees may find themselves feeling equally unmoored by this transition.

These impacts on individual employees can flow upstream to impact teams, departments, and the entire organization. The staff’s feelings of lost progress and growth may result in lower morale, reduced drive and creativity, and fear about what the future holds. This, in turn, affects productivity, output, innovation, and ultimately, the company’s bottom line.

Re-onboarding aims to alleviate the stress of these situations and ease employee anxiety. The goal is to make everyone – from the brand-new hire to the 20-year veteran – feel comfortable and connected in a tumultuous time.

4 tips for successful re-onboarding

Onboarding is a tricky business. In fact, a dismal 12% of employees say that their organization does a good job onboarding new staff. Re-onboarding existing employees is a second chance to get it right. Create a smooth re-onboarding process with these four steps.

1. Stage a warm welcome

Picture yourself starting a new job. When you arrive at the office on your very first day, you’re expected to find your way to your desk, open your inbox, and get right into the day-to-day work. No fanfare or friendly hello. No company swag. No recognition that you’re even there. That’d feel pretty strange, wouldn’t it?

The same can be said of returning to the office in person – whether it’s for the first time in a couple of years or the first time ever. Employees are likely craving some recognition of this collective experience, along with enthusiasm and encouragement as the team transitions into this “new normal.”

Perhaps in-office employees are all returning on the same day, or maybe it’s a staggered return. Either way, when you welcome people back, it can be helpful to mark the occasion by doing things like:

  • Hosting a group orientation to share expectations and answer questions.
  • Leaving company swag or treats on their desks.
  • Stopping by each employee’s desk to personally check in and welcome them.

These might feel unnecessary (or perhaps even a little cheesy), but they can go a long way in making employees’ returns feel like cause for celebration, rather than an expectation that they pick back up without missing a beat.

2. Clearly outline cultural expectations

Even small questions and uncertainties can become significant sources of stress for new employees. Add in the fact that even established employees are reeling from all of the drastic changes over the last year, and it’s likely that your entire team is unsure what they’re doing.

To avoid confusion, communicate your expectations clearly and concisely. This alleviates stress and ensures everyone is on the same page going forward. Topics include:

  • Information about new health and safety protocols, as research shows it’s the top concern of employees who return to the office
  • Details on the new hybrid arrangement and how the organization will update employees on who’s working when and where
  • Protocol for when cameras need to be on or off during video calls
  • Plans for ensuring workers who are remote-only are treated equally and have their voices heard
  • Guidelines for effective and productive meetings
  • Expectations for breaks and running personal errands during the workday.
  • How performance reviews will be conducted to ensure everyone gets equal attention and visibility in a hybrid work environment

Sharing specific policies and guidelines with your team lets them know exactly what the company expects and sets your team up for continued success.

3. Make team-building a top priority

Working from home for extended periods can leave people feeling isolated and detached, and loneliness is a frequently-cited challenge of remote work. When team members are disengaged, it can lead to expensive employee turnover. Working in the office brings your team together physically, but it may create other challenges. Staff used to working alone may find it tough to transition to an environment that involves closer collaboration and face-to-face small talk.

To alleviate these issues, focus on building an effective team. Making your employees feel like a team is a major part of re-onboarding. Employees should feel like they belong, whether they’re transitioning to a hybrid workplace or going back to the office full-time.

Simple team-building activities like lunches, team-wide coffee breaks, or group brainstorming sessions can go a long way toward creating an environment where people feel welcome and valued. Don’t hesitate to ask employees for suggestions on how to strengthen the team’s connections.

As you focus on team-building, find ways to include employees working remotely on a temporary or permanent basis. Set up a video call so that they can still participate in team coffee chats, office games, lunches, and meetings – even if they can’t be there in person.

4. Check in regularly with staff and management

A regular check-in procedure might be the most crucial part of any onboarding or re-onboarding process. Since these aren’t necessarily brand-new employees, you might be tempted to assume they know the ropes. While they very well might, following up is also a way to show you care.

To ensure that your team is acclimating as well as possible, continue to check in with them after the transition. Effective onboarding lasts at least 90 days, and the same is true for re-acclimating your employees.

During those check-ins, ask questions like:

  • How does it feel to be back in the office (or working from the office for the first time)?
  • Is there anything you’re unsure about?
  • Is there anything you miss about working remotely?
  • Do you have what you need to do your job effectively?
  • What kind of feedback have you been receiving from your colleagues?

You can use the information you gather from these conversations to optimize the re-onboarding process across your teams and address any concerns.

Returning to (the new) normal

Just as onboarding new employees is a critical part of the hiring process, re-onboarding provides valuable support for your team. As staff transition to hybrid or in-office arrangements, take time to clarify expectations and answer any questions they may have.

Whether your employees are all in the office together or virtually collaborating using a hybrid model, a well-planned re-onboarding will help them move forward as a united team.

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