As circumstances surrounding the coronavirus pandemic begin to improve and stay-at-home orders get lifted, many organizations have started to consider moving their staff from remote work environments back into the office. With so much uncertainty still present and logistical challenges to consider, the decision to begin the shift is daunting to many. There are many new protocols to establish and safety measures to implement to ensure employees return to a healthy work environment. As difficult as it may seem, for many businesses, the return is inevitable.
The initial transition to working from home was difficult for many companies as they were given very little time to prepare. Slack reported that an estimated 16 million U.S. workers were working remotely due to Covid-19 as of March 27. Five months later, that number is likely to have increased quite a bit. As you begin to transition back into the office, consider these tips to help create a more seamless, stress-free and safe environment for employees.
Once employees receive the go-ahead to return to the office, it will be important to maintain social distancing. Depending on the size and space of your office, you may need to consider a phased approach, initially allowing only essential teams and roles to return. This will reduce overcrowding in common work areas and enable staff to adequately spread out to meet the social distancing protocol of 6 feet. You may even need to rearrange desks and other office equipment.
As an alternative, establish a rotating schedule for employees. This will limit the number of people present on any given day but provides every employee the opportunity to work from home and from the office every week. Continue to utilize technology and communication tools like chat apps and video conferencing to stay connected to those who are still remote.
When it comes to inviting guests into the office, such as customers and clients, virtual meetings are still a great alternative to in-person meetings. Limiting the amount of “outside” people in your office will help limit potential exposure to your employees.
Clean and Sanitize Regularly
Establishing a cleaning and sanitizing regimen for your office is necessary for opening your workplace to employees. All tables, desks, chairs and communal spaces will need to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected multiple times throughout the day. In addition to modifying formal cleaning schedules, provide employees with adequate supplies to keep their own workspaces sanitized. Consider a welcome-back gift bag packed with things like hand sanitizer, face mask, wet wipes, and new office supplies. Remind all employees to frequently and thoroughly wash their hands throughout the day, and to speak up when feeling any sign of illness.
For those with cubicles or open work areas, installing plexiglass barriers to divide employee space or create a barrier between reception and guests who may enter your building is a great idea.
Boost Workplace Morale
Employees may have mixed emotions about returning to the office. Some may feel anxious about the risk of contracting the virus, stressed about leaving children and families, or simply overwhelmed after being in isolation for many months. It’s important to keep team morale high and promote company culture during this transitional phase.
The company’s leadership should honor the accomplishments of employees while they worked remotely. Mark the milestones achieved, acknowledge individual contributions, and recognize with gratitude the entire team’s effort to stay safe and productive.
Consider conducting team building activities, icebreakers or social events to allow staff to relax and become accustomed to the office environment again. Host a lunch party or plan a happy hour after work somewhere that will allow social distanced gatherings.
It will also be important to maintain consistent communication with employees to ensure the transition is a success. Ensure people feel comfortable bringing up concerns, and address questions in a timely manner. Creating a two-way communication stream or having weekly staff meetings where concerns and questions can be voiced is a great way to improve your office communication, especially during this time.
So, when is the right time to make the transition? The decision should not be rushed. Not until your organization has a plan in force that you are able to execute fully should you consider returning. While you may be anxious to get your teams together in person and return to business as usual in office, doing so prematurely may leave you with even more problems. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to this, it’s important to prepare as best as you can to ensure the well-being and health of your employees and overall business.