With the prevalence of employees working from home over the past year, 2021 brings a new approach to work to the forefront. Welcome to the age of the hybrid office, a flexible mix of remote and in-person working.
A recent Gartner poll found that 69% of midsize companies plan to reopen their offices in the second half of 2021. As if 2020 wasn’t complicated enough, the trick for office managers now is to return employees to a physical workplace amid more strict rules, regulations, and health and safety requirements.
You can make the process simple, streamlined, and successful. Here’s a practical list of 5 things every employer needs to do before it’s officially time to return to the office.
1. Communicate changes with your employees early and often
You want your team to feel heard and understood. The best way to make that happen is to communicate clearly and honestly with workers about guidelines, expectations, and timelines.
While a flexible, hybrid approach to work can help you retain employees as you make the switch back to the office, it’s not possible for all companies. So, what do you do?
If productivity soared with your team working from home, it may make sense to give your employees the option to continue to work virtually. If there were more than a few hiccups, it’s best to let everyone know they’ll be back full-time in the office soon.
Another way to retain your employees during a period of change? Clearly communicate your company’s reopening plan. Include information about important items like additional office safety measures and whether remote or dispersed employees will be a part of the team moving forward. Do this well in advance of when the changes will occur to keep uncertainty levels low and morale high!
Speaking of your company’s reopening plan…
2. Create and implement a return to office plan
You need one! A predetermined date on the calendar isn’t enough.
Will everyone in the office be required to social distance, wear a mask, or have their temperatures checked before each workday? These are all questions you need to answer before inviting your employees back to the office.
Additional considerations to include in your company’s plan:
- Will you require or request that employees return to the office?
- Will you ask for a doctor’s note if employees want to come to work?
- Will you demand employees working in the office get vaccinated?
- Will you enhance the cleaning and disinfecting procedures?
- Will you reconfigure the office to comply with social distancing requirements?
- Will you limit in-person meetings and visitors?
- Will you implement staggered shifts, flexible schedules, or a hybrid approach to work?
Consider updating or adding these expectations to your company handbook. This would also make it easier for new hires to be caught up to date quickly and efficiently.
Not sure exactly what health and safety measures to implement for your office post-COVID? We know just who to trust.
3. Closely follow CDC guidelines for safety
During a worldwide health crisis, it’s best to refer to the experts.
The CDC and OSHA both have information and additional resources on their websites, which are updated regularly. This is helpful for office managers who are unsure of what procedures or protocols to follow but want their employees to feel comfortable and stay healthy.
Don’t forget to also check with local and state guidelines to ensure your office is in compliance. Safety first!
Once the physical workspace is ready to go, it’s time to think about how to connect your employees working in the office to those working from home.
4. Set up the technology that connects remote and on-site employees
Is your company part of the 77% who said their workforces will be a hybrid model, with a portion working in the office and a portion working from home? If so, your team will need some way to stay connected with each other.
There’s a tendency for remote workers to feel “out of sight, out of mind.” The best way to combat this? With technology!
In addition to email, platforms like Slack and Zoom offer your virtual and in-person employees a chance to interact and collaborate with each other. This helps your remote workers feel included, even when they’re miles away from the office.
It’s also a good reminder that virtual employees aren’t the only ones who can feel disconnected, especially if changes are happening. If that’s the case, there is something simple yet effective you can provide for everyone to help ensure the transition is smooth.
5. Disseminate resources to limit uncertainty
Resources your team can trust are essential to make everyone’s return to the office a success.
The CDC and OSHA are trustworthy sources to refer your employees to, but you can go one step further. Consult with experts in the field of sanitation, the hybrid approach to work, mental wellness, and workplace safety to cover all your bases.
The idea is to limit uncertainty for those in your workplace as best you can, despite the impending changes.
There is no standard procedure for reopening offices after a global pandemic. Don’t expect to get everything right the first time. You’ve never done anything like this before!
Be compassionate and understanding with yourself – and your employees – as you navigate this process together. In the end, you’ll come out stronger on the other side.