In most of the US, vaccination rates are up, COVID-19 cases are down, and people are slowly but surely resuming pre-pandemic activities like concerts, sporting events, travel, and eating indoors at restaurants. One thing that hasn’t returned to “normal” for many people is work, but that’s starting to change as more and more companies decide the time has come to transition away from fully remote operations and welcome employees back to the office after COVID.
Returning to in-person work is tricky. As an employer, you must balance workers’ fears, concerns, and preferences with business needs and find a way to lead your organization towards a safe and productive “new normal.” We recognize that this is a huge challenge and we’re here to help. Keep reading to discover seven things you can do to make the transition from remote to in-person work as safe and stress-free as possible.
1. Implement (And Enforce) Safe Practices
While vaccines have helped curtail the spread of COVID-19, the virus is still very much a threat — especially to those who haven’t been vaccinated or have other health conditions. That means you need to implement safety practices to prevent your employees from getting sick.
Consider safety measures such as:
- Modified seating to increase social distancing
- Hybrid schedules & staggered start times to minimize the number of people in the office
- Single-serve snack & coffee options
- Extra cleaning
- Masks for unvaccinated workers
Both OSHA and the CDC have released comprehensive safety guidelines for employers considering going back to the office after COVID. Make sure your safety policies conform to guidance from these agencies and to your local laws and regulations. Once you’ve decided what your return to work safety measures will look like, be prepared to enforce them for as long as needed to keep your team safe.
2. Over Communicate
When it comes to employee communication about returning to the office, there’s no such thing as too much. You need to tell your employees exactly what they can expect when they return to the office. This goes a long way to reducing your team’s fears and lowering their stress levels.
Start with the protocols you’ll implement to keep them safe and move on to details about everything from the snacks in the breakroom to how team meetings and vendor interactions will be handled.
Don’t limit your communications to lists of best practices. Make sure to send a welcome message from your CEO thanking employees for their cooperation and contributions. Let workers know you’re excited to welcome them back and don’t be afraid to throw in something fun or lighthearted to provoke a few stress-reducing smiles.
3. Tell Employees Why You Want Them Back
“Because we said so” isn’t a good enough reason to convince your employees it’s time to come back to the office while a worldwide pandemic is still going on. Yes, you are technically the boss and you don’t have to give a reason, but it’s better for you and your employees if you do.
Some of your employees have thoroughly enjoyed working from home and would prefer to never return to the office full-time, while others still have real fears about the dangers of COVID-19. Both groups need to know why you want them to come back to the office now.
There are several reasons you might be eager to return to in-person work — better productivity, team cohesiveness, new employee integration, spontaneous collaboration, better IT security to name just a few. Take some time to understand why you think in-office work is the best option and then explain your reasons to your employees with as much detail and transparency as possible. Trust us — you won’t regret it.
4. Go Above & Beyond to Welcome Your Employees
After so long away, the first day back in the office will feel like starting over for many of your employees. Some of your newer employees might’ve never even seen your physical workspace or met any of their colleagues in person.
With this in mind, be prepared to make Day 1 special. Conduct a mini onboarding session to help orient your employees with new practices and changes to how business is done. Leave welcome gifts on team members’ desks and make sure management is on hand to welcome employees and answer questions.
You should also give your employees some time and space to just catch up with each other and renew their relationships instead of expecting them to jump right into business as usual.
Last but not least, don’t neglect the impact going back to the office after COVID may have on people’s mental health. Set aside some space as “quiet space” for those who may be feeling overwhelmed and consider investing in employee mental health resources such as virtual therapy or meditation programs.
5. Commit to Flexibility, Patience & Listening
“Normal” as we knew it before the pandemic is gone forever. Recognize that things will be different when employees return to the office. Think about which norms and practices are most important to you and be open to give-and-take with your employees on things like dress code, part-time remote work, and flexible hours.
Be patient with your team as they adjust to office life and make sure to ask for their feedback. And remember — your employees are one of your company’s most valuable assets. When they do give feedback — whether it’s about safety practices or ideas for how to do business better — make sure to listen.
We hope you’ve found this article helpful. Moving work out of the office was a big adjustment for most companies in 2020 — and moving it back in will be, too. We’ll be rooting for your success and doing all we can to send helpful resources and information your way.