Key Factor Leaders Aren’t Preparing For in Office Re-Entry Planning: Employee Re-Onboarding

Tom Gimbel

Founder & CEO at LaSalle Network

Learning Objectives

As human resources leaders around the world begin to plan for office re-entry, what should they be doing ahead of time to ensure the smoothest possible transition and the health of their teams? - Company leaders have spent months planning the office re-entry process, from having adequate space to adhere to social distancing guidelines, to having enough PPE for employees. However, one area leaders have not spent nearly enough time focused on and preparing for is re-onboarding employees. - During this session, Tom Gimbel, founder and CEO of LaSalle Network, will walk through steps to take three to six months prior to office re-entry, handling the nuances of returning to a physical office, and how managers can harness this transition to build more trust and buy-in from employees.

Key Takeaways:

  • Steps to take 6 months in advance of re-onboarding employees to help execute a successful return-to-office

  • Paths to navigate the impending managerial nuances of returning to in-person leadership

  • Tools to build a culture around employee engagement and retention in blending remote and in-person teams

"The key factor that so many leaders aren't preparing for in re-entry, and that's employee onboarding. "

Tom Gimbel

Founder & CEO at LaSalle Network


Hi, I’m Tom Gimble, Founder and CEO of LaSalle Network. We’re a staffing, recruiting, and culture firm headquartered in Chicago, doing business in about 38 states nationwide. We only do white collar, back office, as well as sales and marketing positions from IT, and accounting, and finance to Supply Chain, and call centers and office administration. We employ roughly 10,000 people doing contract and interim assignments annually, in addition to placements that will make of over 3500 permanent placements.

We look at re-entering the workforce, we’re doing that from our perspective, as an employer, of my internal headcount of roughly 230 people, as well as contractors and temporary staff coming into the workforce or coming into the office. Also, our clients that we’re consulting and helping them bring their workforce back. The key factors that so many leaders aren’t preparing for in re entry, and that’s employee onboarding.

To give you a little bit of a background on us, as I said, and what we do, and these are some of the positions in which we specialize in. What we’ve spent the past 22 years doing is building a culture about onboarding, acceptance, execution, and positive results. As a result of that, we’ve been an Inc 5000 company, 12 of the past 13 years. Our training program has been one of the top 125 by Training magazine, 3 of the past 4 years. We’ve been the best places to work through a number of periodicals around the country and in the Chicago market.

We’re really excited to talk about prioritizing people versus process, and I think that’s a really important thing to look at. So many companies are focused on making sure that the office is clean, that they have the sanitation, that they have the sanitizers, that they have masks and policy, and what’s going to happen, but the real challenge that we’re facing, the real challenge is people’s emotions. Are they afraid? Have they gotten into a habit over the past year of not going into the office? Do they feel they’re more productive? How do managers feel versus executive leadership? Where’s the intersection on that? Are we getting the right feedback and the right information from our staff to make educated decisions on leadership?

Historically, what most leadership thinks is, I know what’s best for my company, which usually is true. But now we’re coming out of a pandemic, and we’ve had the racial inequity situation of last summer that still exists, even if it’s not on the front page of the newspaper every day. Then, we’ve got the economy of people not knowing how long this boom is going to last.

When we look at coming out of a pandemic, where people are genuinely afraid for their health and well being and lives, it’s a different issue than just doing what’s best for your business. You’ve got to be looking at what’s best for your people. We’re dealing with employees emotions. Number one, have they had COVID? Have their family had COVID? Do they live with elderly folks? Are they married? Are they elderly? Where do they fit in the dynamic of employees? Do you really know what your geography or your your age span is geographically across whatever regions you’re in? Are people located near hospitals? How are they getting physicals? Is your health insurance up to snuff to help them in case they do get sick? These types of things are so important to employees mental well being right now.

The aspect of taking public transportation if your office is in a major metropolitan area. Is it safe? Are they comfortable doing that? If they’re going to drive, how much more is parking than it was before? Then important to them, and you may not think it is, but the the change of going from working at home, having no commute, being able to walk your dog or see your kids or have dinner with your family every night versus the commute. Understanding and having empathy—true empathy—for your employees, no matter what stage they’re in.

So many people look at their employees and say, “Well, if you don’t have kids, we don’t have to worry about your commute time.” Now, that’s not necessarily true, because there’s a form of equality that people are looking at him. Why does he or she get preferential treatment just because they have children? What’s in it for me? When we look at return to office resistance, we’re really going down that dynamic. Are employees scared or are they comfortable, or is it both? We get to the situation of majority of companies outside of restaurants and hospitality, hotels, airlines, and such, normal traditional businesses are doing really well right now. As a result, employees are thinking, if I can do my job from home, why should I come in? Is it only because my employer has lease obligations, they don’t want to feel like their space is going to waste or they really feel that there’s something that can be added? If so, can we do part time in the office? Can I come in two days a week, three days a week, four days a week?

Then, it becomes they’re not scared, they’re comfortable, and where does it go from there? So, what you should consider? Re onboarding entire offices and or groups at once. If you’re going to bring people in, what days? It may sound crazy, it’s only been a year, but it’s also been a year. to bring people in and say, “You’re back in the office five days a week from the get go,” it’s a little overwhelming emotionally. Also, with daycare, pet care, elderly parents, there’s a lot of things that go into this and to give people a ramp up. We recommend saying, bring people in for a day, then two days than three days, but not all at once, five days a week.

In office distractions for employees and managers, I’ve been able to turn off everybody and everything with the click of a button. Now, I’m going to be in an office, most likely in a bullpen area, in a cubicle. I can hear people. There’s people walking back and forth. There’s many people, if not hundreds of people, who are talking, some yelling. There’s paging going out over the intercom system. This is different than what I’ve been doing for the past year, and it’s going to take a while for people to get re acclimated to that.

We talked a little bit on transportation to the office, and how that’s going to work for people, but you have to have a clear process and communicate that in order for people to understand. I’m not saying you need to make everybody happy. You can’t. You’re running a company, and people aren’t going to be happy in mass. What they do want and they do deserve is to have clear communication about what you’re going to do and when it’s going to happen.

Then, blended teams. Remote plus in office working effectively together. If some people aren’t in the office, are you still going to do meetings on Zoom where everyone’s at their desk and looking at the screen? Does it keep everybody on an equal playing field? These are the things you have to look at, where if you have some people who are face to face, and other people that are just on Zoom, and they can only see part of the room, is that going to be as cohesive team building for your company, for your team as you thought it was going to be in coming back?

Then, what we’ve done is you’ve built a culture virtually. Over the past year, you’ve done whatever you was in your company’s culture, your business units, culture, whether it was virtual happy hours, whether it was more team meetings, whether it was checking in, whether it was how you held people accountable with email communication, and such. Now, you’ve got to gain their trust for re-entry. You’ve built this up. They know you’re a good employer. They weren’t laid off. They weren’t furloughed. Now, you bring them in. Open, honest communication and setting the path work for them, knowing that you’re going to figure this out together.

What is your culture moving into this step? Number one, being available. Your employees are going through a lot. You may not think it’s a lot, how your brain processes the reengagement is very different than all of your employees. You got to think about the masses. You have to be available if they want to talk, and make it feel that they have carte blanche to access management, and ask them questions.

Training, learning, and development, so important that people feel they’re being invested in. iIf you can lay out what the learning, training, and development program is going to be upon reentry, it’ll really set a path for they’re investing in me, in addition to bringing me back.

Coaching employees through mistakes. If you’re going to have employees in the office, make sure that your managers are around to coach them through. I think, all too often, management who’s probably more tenured at your company thinks they don’t have to be in the office as much anymore. There’s no point in having new people in the office if management isn’t around to help guide them, develop them, and train them.

Lastly, and arguably most important, is building relationships both with your peer group, with subordinates, and with superiors, is getting to know people on a more intimate level. Sitting in the cafeteria, eating at the counter together, coming in early, staying late, grabbing a coffee, getting a happy hour, those types of things build camaraderie, they build culture, they build team, they build relationships. Even after a meeting is over, some people hit Zoom, and their Zoom call. If you’re together, you don’t do that. You’re still sitting there in the room together when the meeting is over, and allows you to build a relationship that can go on [inaudible].

One thing that we’ve coined at our company is 3E management. It’s really important to me because it’s how I’ve led the company for over 22 years. Empathy, education, and empowerment. This is really important when you’re talking about how you’re going to bring people back.

Number one is empathy. It’s what we’ve covered during this whole this whole presentation. Can you have empathy for your people who are having a harder time with reentry than you are? Again, whether it’s out of fear, or not wanting to leave their house, or what have you, you got to have empathy.

Number two, education. Let’s make sure we’re educating our people. Learning, development, training, external, internal, but let’s make sure that they know we’re invested in them getting better and then getting smarter. When we’re doing that, there’s a sense of these people care about me beyond just wanting me to get out of my house every day.

Then lastly, empowerment. As you’re going through this step of reactivation and reonboarding, upon reentry, empower people to make some decisions. They may not be able to decide if they’re coming into the office or if they’re not, but how about where seats are located in the office, or how vacation policy is going to work with working remotely. Create an employee council that will work where they feel they’re empowered to make decisions, and add value to your management, your leadership team.

These are just a few things that I think are really important for you to ponder and to chew on. I hope it’s added some value to you and your team as you go down this path. Over the next 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 months, as we come to the end of COVID, hopefully, and work from home, and we can all have find success and a nice balance of being in the office, being around one another, and still enjoy the lives that we’ve built over the past year. Good luck.

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