Ease Your Staff Back Into the Workplace: A Return-to-the-Office Guide

Although dates to return to the workplace have been delayed for many, it’s still crucial to have a well-crafted plan in place.

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It can feel like we might never make it back to working in the office thanks to the Delta variant and the seemingly ever-changing nature of the pandemic — CNBC described it as “the Great Wait.” However, chances are that we’re going to head back to the office eventually.

Even though planned returns have been pushed back more than once at this point, having a plan in place is essential even if you might not get to execute it fully yet.

A key part of a well-crafted plan for returning to the office is a communication strategy around what changes are taking place, why they’re happening, and — perhaps most importantly — what’s going to be different around the office when the return finally does occur.

When it comes to easing your employees back into the workplace, here are some tips and tricks for guiding your company’s return to the office.

Ensure workplace safety

If you’re going to bring workers back to the office, you’re going to have to ensure that they and the people they interact with are safe. Of course, this is going to look very different from company to company, but here are the main elements to consider.

Come up with a vaccination plan and strategy

From outlining vaccination requirements and testing protocols for those who aren’t vaccinated to communicating the policy and navigating medical and religious exemptions, you’ll want to have vaccination at your company squared away before people come back to in-person work.

Develop a COVID-19 exposure plan

Whether it’s your employee or someone they live with who has come in contact with a person with COVID-19, you’ll need to have a plan in place for how you’ll handle exposures within your workforce. From contact tracing to requiring work from home after exposure, to notifying the rest of the company about an exposure, a stressful situation is easier if you have a contingency plan in place.

Define new office protocols

Whether that’s restricting business travel or outlining socially distant contact practices between employees and customers, you’ll want to give people as much information as possible about what you expect and what you won’t tolerate in the office. That way, they can plan accordingly.

You’ll want to give people as much information as possible about what you expect and what you won’t tolerate in the office. That way, they can plan accordingly.

Develop a change-friendly plan and communicate it clearly and consistently

If we’ve learned one thing from COVID-19, it’s that nothing is certain. No matter what your return-to-work plan looks like, the key is going to be flexibility. For example, your plan should include preparations for what to do if the pandemic requires your company to revert to remote work.

Of course, the ins and outs of your company’s specific plan is going to have to be unique to the demands of your business and office. From staggering in-office among teams, to making concessions for those who aren’t quite ready or able to come back to the office, there are plenty of ways that you can put together a return-to-work plan that works for you. Regardless of what you decide, the key is communicating it clearly and consistently.

Outline and share your return-to-work plan

First, you’ll want to outline your decision framework for determining when you will ask employees to come back into the office. Whether that’s per capita infections, positivity rates, vaccination rates, or something else altogether, by sharing your decision-making process with your employees, it makes an uncertain situation a little more predictable.

Communicate how you will handle the return to work, and your expectations

Next, you’ll need to communicate exactly how the return to the office will be handled and what will be expected. Will employees have to show proof of vaccination? Will they have the option to continue working from home if they’d like? Once we’re back in the office, what would trigger a return to working remotely?

Think about the return-to-workplace process like this: Step 1: develop your plan. Step 2: prepare your office space. Step 3: prepare your employees.

Approach communicating about returning to the office the way that most companies approach open enrollment — with tons and tons of clear and frequent communication to the point that it’s almost impossible to miss. While it might get redundant for some, the constant information communicates something on its own: you’re taking this process seriously.

Overall, think about the return-to-workplace process like this: Step 1: develop your plan. Step 2: prepare your office space. Step 3: prepare your employees.

Then, as you carry out your plan, pay attention to what is and isn’t working and be ready to tweak your plan accordingly. This will help you confidently navigate this opaque and uniquely challenging process of getting workers back into the office during the final stages of a global pandemic.

None of this is easy, but hold onto the mentality that we’re all in this together and it’s a process for figuring out what does and doesn’t work for you and your company. That way, you can be confident knowing you’re taking the most realistic approach possible.

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