How leaders should approach back to office and vaccination conversations

28 February 2022 2 min. read

With offices reopening as Covid-19 restrictions are phased out, many leaders are set to face difficult conversations on how to optimally bring their workforce back into the office.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, millions of Australian companies shifted to remote and digital working. But with many employees keen to hang onto the flexibility they gained during this period, returning to pre-corona office life will come with a range of considerations and tricky decisions for employers.

The majority of Australians are against returning to a five day office week, with a hybrid mode – a mixture of working from home and the office – the most preferred option, according to a study published last week by NAB.

Liz Ralph, Learning Manager, Lysander Consulting

When asked about their ideal future work situation, the 2,000 Australians surveyed told NAB’s researchers they ideally want to spend 56 per cent of their working hours at the workplace and 44 per cent at home.

Clear is that leaders will have to accommodate employees’ changed expectations, and have to carefully manage the transition. Meanwhile, discussions can become more complex when layering in safety compliance issues such as mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations, said Liz Ralph, Learning Manager at Lysander Consulting.

Advising leaders on how to best approach the situation, Ralph said “it really helps to take a neuroscience-based approach to plan the conversation.” She said that leaders initially need to “take the time to listen and understand the thoughts of employees and above all ensure that discussions don’t escalate.”

As with any complex organisational change, people at an individual level need to be guided through the change (and emotional) process. “The first conversation is about listening, and what we would call an inquiry rather than an advocacy approach. Instead of stepping into a conversation to persuade of influence, it should be all about listening and understanding.”

“When leaders can successfully do this, they’re building connection. This then paves the way for a more collaborative approach from both sides.”

More conversations however are likely to be needed, added Ralph. “A second conversation typically focuses on the problem solving of the obstacles, while a third discussion could be around making concrete agreements.”