Returning to the Office in 2022? A Month-by-Month Guide to Get Your Employees Back to the Office
Companies large and small are planning a full return to office in 2022. Here’s a month-by-month checklist to get your company ready.
As of June 2021, 42% of the U.S. labor force is still working from home full time, according to a study by Stanford’s Institute for Economic Policy Research. As access to vaccinations accelerates, companies of all sizes are putting together plans to return to the office. A survey of CEOs from leading companies found almost half (45%) expect a return to “normal” will happen sometime in 2022.
While businesses had to suddenly send employees home during the pandemic, companies can be more thoughtful about how to restructure physical workplaces, bring people back, and empower employees to do their best work.
This article provides a month-by-month checklist to get your company ready to return to the office on Jan. 1, 2022 (er, Jan. 2 if you recognize New Year’s Day as a holiday).
If you plan on bringing employees back to the office earlier, combine the checklists to meet your company’s deadline.
July 2021: Create a task force, survey employees, decide on what the future of work will look like
Before bringing employees back to the office, you need to strategize how the company will do it.
First, assign a project manager or create a centralized task force to plan a safe return to office. If possible, involve people from different departments and seniority levels to bring different perspectives. This task force will be the guiding force over the next 6 months.
From there, you’ll want to survey your employees about future work preferences. You may be surprised at what you find. According to original Zenefits research, 36% of employees wanted to be in the office every day, with another 43% wanting to come in “occasionally” or “as needed.” On the flip side, another 23% preferred to work remotely 100% of the time, and recent reports some employees might quit if they are forced to return to the office.
As you develop a survey, ask employees if they want to work remote, a hybrid schedule, or a return to a physical workspace. See if a co-working space makes more sense, especially if you have a small team. In your survey, give your employees an option to write out what they specifically want to see in the future.
“We couldn’t keep a business afloat from home without an open line of communication with our employees,” says Chris Vaughn, the CEO of Saucey. “We plan to have one-on-one meetings with all of our employees in order to gauge where they are at with their mental health in regards to returning to work and what we can do to make the situation the most comfortable we can.”
You’ll also want to correlate this information with each team member and their role. Some more questions for the task force to consider are:
- Are there certain departments that really need to be in a physical space? Especially if the workers prefer remote setups?
- Can the back-office work stay home, at least most of the time?
- Do you want to lease a space or rent a co-working area?
- Are there any state and local pandemic policies that need to be considered?
When you assess what your business needs are and which teams require a physical presence, you can strategically decide on your remote work policy and the future of your office space.
For example, if you know that 50% of your staff can work from home, and wants to work from home most of the time, you can downsize your office space and materials by up to 50%. Understanding how your office will be used in the future is a key component of cutting long-term costs.
But don’t deliberate about what kind of office space you’ll want for too long. Leases are being snapped up quickly.
Checklist for July
- Designate a point person or return to an office task force to handle the project
- Survey your employees to see what type of work environment they prefer
- Do they want to work 100% remote, hybrid, or in the office?
- Why is this their preferred work plan?
- Ask them to rate their workplace options from most preferred to least preferred.
- Determine your business need
- Do some roles require being in the physical office 100% of the time, while others part-time?
- How much of your office is already completely remote?
- Are there any other processes you can automate or put online?
- Write pros/cons and long-term savings cost if you are changing your work business model
- Do you need to downsize your office space?
- How do remote software and technology impact your savings?
- What do you lose by switching models?
- Determine what type of office space you need
- Do you already have an existing office that needs to be re-configured?
- Did you let your lease lapse and you need to find new office space?
- Would a shared co-working space be more convenient?
August 2021: Prep communications employee and customer communications, update tech stack, ensure compliance
Now that you know your employees’ preferences and decided on office space needs, it’s time to turn these insights into action. This means creating a comprehensive plan about who comes into the office and when. Rather than bring everyone back at once, you can stagger their schedules to make the transition easier and provide more social distancing space.
“We no longer rent office space,” says Nikita Chen, founder and CEO of LegitGrails. “Instead, we just made a deal with a co-working space to offer a dedicated desk for all employees that wish to return to an ‘office setting’ for three days per week.”
Chen has saved 75% on prior rental costs, which allowed her to repurpose the funds to reduce employee turnover.
“We are also drafting another plan to give recurring employee bonuses, as we observe a growing trend of quitting among entry-level employees,” Chen says. “This should in time improve our employee retention rates, and thus the effectiveness of our systems.”
Prep a memo that includes these items and explains your return to office decisions. If some roles are to be fully remote, make sure to stress that this is based on job obligations and employee preferences, not discrimination based on age, race, pregnancy, or another demographic factor (which is a violation of ADA laws).
The next practical step in August is to include legal and IT into the decision-making process, and ask them what needs to be done to ensure that the transition is as seamless as possible.
You may also want to post a blog or press release to inform clients of your structural changes and why you’ve made them.
Checklist for August
- Based on survey results, create a plan to bring employees back to work.
- Will it be staggered, or all at once?
- What are the rules for remote, hybrid, and in-office work?
- Do some people work on alternate days?
- Prep memo to employees explaining your return to office decision
- Send internal communications to explain to future employees and customers why you made this decision.
- Consider making a blog post or a PR statement about your return to office plans.
- Ensure both employees and your customers that safety remains a priority, no matter which model you choose.
- Evaluate technology and consult your IT team to see what is needed to support on-site and remote work
- Talk with your legal department to ensure you are in full compliance with state and federal laws (CDC, OSHA, ADA, paid leave), and you are not being discriminatory
September 2021: Create return to office policies and resources, update employee handbook
Next, you’ll want to ensure that you’ve secured your office space. At this point, your employees should know that you’re planning to open the office, and you’ve cleared everything past legal and IT.
It’s time to have HR craft return to office policies, guidelines, and other resources. You may need to update your employee handbook with the new procedures and policies around mask-wearing, remote hours, vaccinations, COVID-19 leave, and other pandemic-related topics.
Your home-state regulations may further impact your specific policies.
Growth manager and co-founder of CocoDoc, Alina Clark, managed to hold onto her lease during 2020 and renegotiate the company’s rent. As a result, Clark and her team have been able to focus less on the technical aspects of their workspace and more on their employees.
“We want to have as much engagement from those working remotely as we do with those working from the office,” says Clark. “This means that we have to reevaluate our whole engagement system and see how we can onboard everyone in the same pane.”
In addition, if you have furloughed your employees, you need to decide whether or not you are bringing them back in.
Checklist for September
- Look for and secure physical office space
- Have HR create return to office policies, guidelines, resources for employees
- Update your employee handbook with any new policies regarding mask wearing, remote hours, vaccinations, and so on
- Decide if you will require vaccinations, have health screenings, and other COVID-related precaution
- Have a protocol if someone is sick with COVID-19 and comes to work
- If you furloughed or laid off employees, determine if you are bringing these employees back
October 2021: Prep workspace, upgrade furniture and tech
Finally, it’s time to prep your workspace. Create a floor plan of the office so you can understand how the break room, kitchen, lobby, and other shared spaces will look like.
Keep in mind that if you have a hybrid system and opted for a smaller office, you may find that employees will share more spaces than before. You’ll need to limit customization to only those employees who will be full-time.
There are many ways you can upgrade your office. It’s not all about technical equipment, like digital conference spaces. You may also want to invest in updates that improve safety or the workplace experience.
Jamie Ridley, the Senior Officer and Event Manager at Prodege, weighs in on how they will be upgrading their office:
“Our new headquarters will have state of the art technology. We’re investing in sound masking, app-based door entry to Zoom phone and conference rooms. We’ll also be installing a Bevi machine for sparkling and flat flavor-infused water. In addition, each machine will have QR Code smartphone ordering, enabling a limited touch experience.”
Depending on your social distancing precautions, you may require partitions or larger spaces in between work desks.
Another aspect that isn’t often considered in your travel policy. With more and more industries opening up, you may have some employees who will be required to travel frequently. You’ll need to adjust your policies for this as well.
Checklist for October
- Create an updated floor plan for your workspace
- Consider how areas like the break room, kitchen, lobby, and other spaces will be shared
- Will you need additional safeguards in certain areas, such as keeping hand sanitizer stocked?
- How will offices look like?
- Will you have partitions or open plans?
- Which spaces will be shared and which will have full-time occupancy?
- Will your new plan require additional policies?
- Order furniture and update tech if you haven’t already
- Consider your company’s travel policy for 2022 and revise if necessary
November 2021: Create a toolkit to support managers and employees, ensure compliance rules are met,
In November, you’ll want to create a toolkit for managers so they can support their employee’s transition into the office. This can include FAQs, new policies, and work information. You must train your managers on how to use this toolkit so that the employees are properly onboarded.
Some additional training for employees includes safety measures, and compliance rules, especially around health and COVID-related illness.
But this toolkit doesn’t have to have only the new regulations. You should also inform managers and employees of any new benefits you’ve decided to invest in.
“With the hybrid working style, our staff can manage their time effectively,” says Thomas Fultz, CEO and Founder of Coffeeble. “We also have a basic daily meal stipend, which they can use either working at the coffee shop or in a hostel. While these policies give our employees a lot of freedom, we have a strict deadline and catch-up meeting almost every morning to know what is going to be done during the day. ”
Checklist for November
- Create a return to office toolkit for managers that they can use to support their employees. Include FAQs, updated policies, and work information.
- Train managers on this toolkit
- Develop training for employees returning to work -—emphasize safety measures, protocols, and rules to ensure compliance.
- Review the CDC guidelines
- Review your state and county information regarding COVID rules
- Consider having your managers give feedback on the toolkit to give it a final tweak before onboarding employees.
December 2021: Prepare physical office, communicate to employees
Now it’s time to arrange furniture, update office technology (hardware and software), hang compliance posters and signs, as well as let employees know about their new schedule. You’ll want to let them know at least 30 days ahead of time to give them time to sort out their return to office plan.
Consider sending your employees a return to an office care package. This can include company information but also wellness applications to help ease anxiety or work-life balance checklists.
Finally, you’ll want to let your clients know, if you haven’t already, that you’ll be back in the office. It’s critical to be transparent about your operations. You may also want to send them a FAQ document that clarifies any changes to how you work and how this may affect them.
At treetree, the company is prepping both their employees and clients for their return to the office.
“Each employee chooses two days to be in the office, and the hours are only 11am to 3pm with flexible workspaces,” says co-founder and CEO Becca Apfelstadt.
“In addition, the company is also helping clients develop return-to-work strategies and outlined steps companies should take to make it a meaningful experience as employees get back to the office.”
Ultimately, December is all about putting everything in place and educating your team so that you can have a smooth transition in January.
Checklist for December
- Arrange furniture and update tech (hardware and software)
- Hang signs addressing updated protocols
- Communicate with employees 30 days out about their new schedule for 2022
- Send a “return to office” care package
- Consider sending subscriptions to health and wellness apps to help ease their anxiety if they have to return to the office
- Let them know about new benefits
- Make sure they know they can speak to you or their manager 1-on-1 about the upcoming changes.
January 2022: Welcome back! Focus on team-building and creating feedback loops
Finally, your employees are back! Remember that some employees hired during the pandemic will be meeting their teams for the first time. So you’ll want to host some team-building activities to get things rolling.
And don’t forget to add a feedback loop so both employees and managers can decide what is working and reevaluate technology or processes as needed. You may also find that employees who originally wanted to work remotely have decided to come in a few days a week, while those who were convinced of 100% office-time want to shift to part-time remote roles. So, you’ll also want to keep your door open to those changes.
Starting 2022 on the right foot
While remote work is likely to stay here in some capacity for most employees, it’s hardly a bad thing. Businesses we’ve spoken to have been able to reap the rewards in the form of cost savings by switching to a hybrid or fully remote model.
That said, at the heart of every successful strategy isn’t what other businesses are doing. It’s finding out what is right for your business and your employees. Once you take the first step to discover their workplace preferences and your business objectives, you can start from there.
In short of reopening your office by 2022, you’ll need to:
- Create a task force
- Survey your employees
- Make a plan
- Decide on your workspace
- Plan a new work schedule
- Update technology
- Review health and remote work policies
- Let everyone know about your changes
It’s never too early to get a start on the next year. If you are looking to get started now, we have a free Return to Work survey template you can use to test the waters.