As restrictions loosen and we learn more about the coronavirus, some businesses are welcoming staff back to their physical workplaces. If you’re thinking of bringing back your workforce in some capacity, you'll need to be prepared. From implementing health and safety protocols to fostering your staff's emotional well-being, consider these key factors before your employees return to the office.
Benefits of Going Back to Office
Making the decision to return to work – and asking your employees to do the same – is a difficult one. On the one hand, the risks of COVID-19 may still be significant in some areas, but on the other, with the proper safety measures in place, the business benefits of in-person work might be worth it. Here are some of the potential pros of going back to the office:
Ability for more collaboration
While video conferencing and messaging apps are great tools, it’s hard to replicate the impromptu brainstorming sessions that happen during informal office conversations. Remote employees might also be grappling with lots of distractions if they have other family members at home with them, making it harder for them to contribute to group discussions or attend virtual meetings.
A return to team building
Virtual happy hours and fun online chats may help employees’ bond when they can’t be together, but it’s not quite the same as face-to-face group activities and celebrations. Even if staffers do return, it’s still not wise for big groups to gather all at once, but smaller breakout sessions may still be beneficial.
Access to equipment and a robust network
Even though companies have done a great job in making sure remote employees have what they need to get by, nothing beats office Wi-Fi, professional-grade printers, and a host of other on-site equipment.
Make Sure Office is Safe and Compliant
If you are considering a return to the office, you have to do so responsibly and make sure the health and safety of everyone is a top priority. Start with this checklist:
Understand local regulations
In addition to national guidance, you also need to make sure you understand local rules that may vary by municipality when it comes to occupancy and social distancing rules.
Make adjustments to seating layouts
Before you reopen, you need to evaluate everything from traffic patterns in your workplace, how you will control the use of shared spaces if you need to reconfigure the layout so people may stay distanced and more. You might also decide to install plexiglass barriers to separate workers.
Establish cleaning protocols
Follow recommendations on how to properly disinfect your office space and consider increasing professional cleaning services for common areas and high-touch surfaces like light switches and doorknobs. You should also make plans for what type of disinfecting is required if someone in the workspace tests positive. Finally, make sure to have ample cleaning products available and encourage employees to regularly disinfect their own workspaces.
Prepare Your Employees to Return to Office
In addition to the practical safety measures in your office, you also need to ensure your employees are on board and comfortable with returning. Here are some things you may do:
Everyone is in a different health situation, and some employees might be juggling caregiving. That's why it’s important to reach out to your staff to gauge how they feel about coming back and keep an open mind about how to make accommodations. For instance, if a worker has children who are schooling from home, you might allow them to have a blended schedule. You may also decide that the most vulnerable people with underlying medical conditions may continue working fully remote for now.
Stagger days/hours in the office
Instead of having everyone come back during the same work hours, consider a rotating office schedule with staggered part-time shifts or assign employees to specific office days to maintain a lower capacity.
Educate employees about new policies
From mask-wearing protocols to limiting the number of elevator riders to the importance of staying home if they have any symptoms, it’s up to you to educate employees about staying vigilant. Have a virtual meeting where everyone may ask questions prior to their return, send out a clear outline of what to expect, and post ample signage throughout the office with safety reminders.
Get Back to the Office Safely
Deciding if it’s safe to head back to the office after a temporary closure due to COVID-19 is not something to take lightly as a business owner. By weighing the pros and cons, offering employees flexibility and understanding in the process, and doing everything in your power to create a safe environment, you may feel good about getting back to business in-person.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or an opinion on any issue. It should not be regarded as comprehensive or a substitute for professional advice.