Now that a return to normal is in sight, many offices are beginning to bring their workforce back to the office. However, prior to sending out that “we’re back in business” email, there are protocols and precautions to consider for your business space.
Meet with Your Team About a Return to Office
Although you may have some individuals ready to head back to the office, others might be hesitant to return to it. When you think you’re ready to bring people back, send out a poll or questionnaire to gauge employees’ comfort levels of going back to normal. This information will give you a baseline of what individuals are feeling and what they need from you to feel safe in the workplace.
Hosting virtual meetings in a town hall format is another alternative to hear about what your team wants from you. Dialogue between you and your employees will be an important part of returning to work in a safe manner. By including individuals from the start, you will be able to keep lines of communication open at every step of the process.
Communication will be continuous with your team during this time. From the initial contact about a return to the office to conveying new safety information, you will be meeting with your team a lot in the lead-up to the actual reopening date. This open communication will aid you in training your employees to the new work standard in a clear and concise way, helping to head off any issues before they occur.
Prepare Your Space for the New Standard
Aside from the human aspect of a return to in-person work, you’ll also need to get your office ready too. A thorough cleaning will most likely be at the top of your list of things to do. The ventilation and air duct system is a good place to start, as many businesses are changing or replacing them to stay up to safety guidelines. Speaking of guidelines, you’ll want to adhere to federal, state and local parameters for re-opening your company for employees. While some states are still enacting capacity limits, others are fully back to business as usual. Following the U.S. Centers for Disease Control or Occupational Safety and Health Administration will provide a good baseline of rules to follow when bringing people back.
You might have to reconfigure your office set-up to safely practice social distancing. The new office set-up might also lead you to stagger which employees can be in the office at a certain time. This safeguard will help with capacity monitoring as well as allowing people to get used to being in the office again. Posting signs about frequent hand washing and sanitizing around your space will also give individuals a gentle nudge and reminder of safety measures. Adding sanitation spots and providing masks are another factor considered in your space.
Another aspect to keep in mind are the legal ramifications of going back to the office. There’s no way of knowing if another flare up of COVID will happen in your community. However, you’ll need to have policies in place for preventing infected individuals from coming into work. Although it may seem like a no-brainer to some, others need to see it in black and white. Meet with your legal team or other leadership individuals to set up plans for sick leave, what to do if a sick person enters the office, and how contact tracing will take place. Doing this work ahead of time will help with a quick response when problems arise.
Set a Standard for Employees
Now that you’ve put work into reconfiguring your office space for employees, it’s time to ensure they follow the new protocols. Set up meetings with all employees prior to the return to office to explain the rules moving forward. Make it clear there will be no exceptions to the rules because you want to stay open for business, and protect all of your employees’ well-being. Explain why personal limits will be in place and for how long they remain the standard. Although people may want to jump right back into office socializing, they need to understand that breaking the rules will hurt everyone in the long run.
Limiting the number of people in office might be due to capacity limits, but perhaps there will be some individuals who choose to stay remote for a while longer. Discuss amongst leadership what the protocol will be:
Are all employees coming back at once?
Will there be a schedule for when employees will be in office and when they’ll be working remotely?
How will your business address people who choose to stay remote?
Knowing these answers will help when you introduce the new rules to your team.
Provide Support for Your Team
The pandemic has had a wide range of impacts on individuals. For some, it’s been a health crisis, while others have had mental health problems. Perhaps your company needs to offer counsel services for employees to speak with professionals about how they feel coming back to the office, or to talk about how the pandemic has impacted their lives.
But it’s not just professionals who should be meeting with your employees. You should be talking to them, too. If you haven’t been having regular communication with individuals on how they are doing both at work and outside of it, then start to do it pronto. These meetings show that you care about your team and you take their overall well-being seriously. Yes, this might sound like a job for HR, but as a manager or person in leadership, you also need to speak with individuals yourself to truly understand what’s going on. This also showcases mindfulness in the workplace, a big plus for business.
A successful re-opening of your physical office will not happen overnight. You and your team have a lot of work ahead of you to ensure a safe return to work. By following the tips mentioned above, you will have adequate measures in place to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Sara Carter is a co-founder of Enlightened Digital, entrepreneur, and Bostonian. She spends her days writing code, chasing her children and/or dog, and searching for the perfect brownie recipe.