What’s the Best Return-to-Work Policy?

Create a policy for your employees to return to work safely while helping your business thrive.


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Is your staff returning to the office? Prepare with these 3 steps

Balancing the needs of the company and the physical and emotional wellbeing of employees has been a top challenge for business owners and HR throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

With a return to the office looming for many, employers are struggling to determine exactly what is the best return-to-work policy.

Turns out, there’s not one. Deanna Baumgardner, PHP and founder of Employers Advantage LLC, an HR consulting and outsourcing firm, said her team has been working with companies across the board to develop RTW plans and policies. “It’s a mixed bag,” Baumgardner said. “The best return-to-work policy depends on the company, industry, and employees.”

Are you creating the return-to-work policy for your company? Here’s what to consider.

1. Allow employees to remain remote if possible

“The high-level belief that people can’t do their jobs from home has been shattered.”

Studies show that not only are employees productive while working remotely, they’re also finding it satisfying and engaging. Zenefits surveyed more than 700 employees of small businesses and found the majority report feeling engaged by their work.

That’s in part because of the cultural shift and accompanying organizational support we’ve witnessed during the pandemic. Teams have had to adjust workflows and employers have had to provide the tools needed to make remote work successful. As a result, many remote teams are thriving. “The high-level belief that people can’t do their jobs from home has been shattered,” said Dave Collins, Founder and CEO of Oak + Reeds, a remote training company based in the Bay Area. “And now HR and managers have a much larger set of data to back this up. We’ve had this beautiful, 6 month-long, accidental work experience that’s given us data we needed to prove it works,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, remote workers laud the benefits of:

  • Improved work-life balance
  • A nonexistent commute
  • The ability to take advantage of their most productive hours

Consider allowing employees to remain remote if it’s working for your team.

2. Offer other flexible working arrangements

The future of work demands flexibility, period. We’ve learned this in myriad ways from the COVID-19 pandemic, like the need for extended sick leave, flexible hours to care for family members, and an adaptable mindset to step into new roles and responsibilities at a moment’s notice.

Expect this need for agility with grace to continue. The coming years will require employees to accommodate fast-changing regulatory requirements and support the changing needs of employees. Building flexibility into the bones of your organization starts with granting employees the freedom to work how they please.

Flexible working arrangements — which allow employees to organize their own schedules, working location, and “on” hours — help employers meet the needs of the business while supporting employees in caring for pets, children, elderly parents, or themselves. Remote work is a type of flexible working arrangement, but other options include hybrid work or job-share, where employees work from a combination of an office and remotely, and where the responsibilities of a single job are split between 2 employees, respectively.

Baumgardner has implemented a flexible, hybrid model at her firm. Her company wants to make people feel safe and not risk anyone getting sick.

“If employees are ready to come back to the office, they can work from here,” she said. “And if they’d prefer to work from home to take measures to protect their families, that’s fine too.”

3. Prepare the office

If a return to the workplace is in the cards for your business, protect yourself and your workers by complying with CDC guidelines for safe working spaces and creating an open dialogue between HR and employees.

“There is a difference between being safe and feeling safe, so be open and transparent about what cleaning and safety measures you are taking in the workplace,” Baumgardner said. Inform employees of how they can do their part to keep the workplace safe and healthy. “Also share what is expected of employees and their responsibility for helping maintain a clean, safe, and productive work environment,” she said.

Employers are also required to comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s General Duty Clause to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards, as well as any other applicable state or local laws. Consult an employment lawyer or your general counsel to ensure compliance.

“Share what is expected of employees and their responsibility for helping maintain a clean, safe, and productive work environment.”

Additional measures

In addition to open communication channels, consider these other measures to facilitate a safer and more comfortable return to work:

  • Adjust the office layout: Rearrange workspace to comply with social distancing measures. Mark clearly one-way entries and exits to minimize face-to-face contact while in transit. Remove chairs from communal areas to discourage employees from gathering.
  • Provide sanitizer stations: Outfit the office with regularly spaced hand sanitizer stations. Place stations in locations where employees are commonly touching surfaces. They can be at exits and entries, in the kitchen, and near the printer.
  • Mark appropriate social distance: Place markers for 6-feet of social distance in commonly trafficked areas, like the kitchen and in meeting rooms.
  • Stagger the return to work: Consider dividing the workforce and bringing employee groups back to work in shifts.
  • Ask employees to wear masks: Request or require that employees wear masks, especially in work environments where social distancing isn’t always feasible.

The best return-to-work policy is one that helps the business thrive while protecting and supporting employees. Talk to your employees to understand where they’re at and what they need to be successful. Above all else, grow a flexible mindset to meet the challenges of today and prepare for those to come tomorrow.


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