How to go back to the office safely post-COVID

Over a year ago, COVID forced many companies out of the office – sending employees home with a laptop and without a plan. Now, as COVID cases are declining and vaccination rates are rising, many companies are planning a return to the office — but how do employers ensure that the shift back to the workplace is positively received among employees?

Growing concerns about health and safety have many employees worried about the office reopening. In a recent survey conducted by Envoy, 73% of workers expressed concern about the potential risks of returning to the workplace.

So how can employers create safe spaces where people actually want to work?  Below, we’ve outlined a few ways to keep employee safety, well-being, and satisfaction at the forefront of your return to the workplace.

Make a plan

Creating a comprehensive return-to-work plan that takes into account both employee safety and business operations is the first step to any successful transition back to the workplace. There are many moving parts, each of which will require careful strategizing and testing. By doing so, you will be able to create an effective plan to safely reopen the office. Here are 3 key steps to follow in the process:

Create a timeline. Clearly defined phases can be beneficial in creating a timeline for the transition back into the workplace. Phases should include details such as initial opening dates and return time frames for different teams. This structured timeline will help provide clarity not only to management, but also to anxious employees.

Decide on a workplace model. To decide on the right workplace model to implement going forward, business leaders must evaluate both the needs of the business and the employees. If you’ve already decided to return to the office in some capacity, then you must now determine whether your company will be fully in-person or hybrid, a mix of at home and in office work. Carefully weigh the pros and cons of each workplace model and choose a strategy that best supports your company and your people.

Plan for ”What if?”. Your plan to return to the physical office should include plans for “what if?”. What if an employee tests positive for COVID? What if employees are exposed to COVID? It is critical to have a plan for these scenarios in order to take quick action and mitigate risk.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, a detailed plan that equally supports your employees and your company will help jumpstart a successful return to office.

Establish health & safety protocols

The health and safety of your people are the most important components of the return to the office. Employees want to see their well-being prioritized in the workplace. In order to do so, employers must develop procedures to monitor and promote the overall health and safety of their workforce. There are numerous resources available online to help you determine best practices for workplace safety, including the CDC’s “Workplaces & Businesses” page and the OSHA’s “Protecting Workers” page.

To start, here are a few steps you can take to prioritize the health and safety of your employees:

  • Provide PPE
  • Practice physical distancing
  • Reconfigure the office
  • Set up sanitizing stations
  • Implement extra cleaning practices
  • Install more advanced air filtration systems
  • Encourage employees to stay home if they are feeling unwell

Communicate with your employees

A well-communicated plan will help ease the mind’s of employees who are anxious about the return to the office. As a business leader, you must ensure that there is no uncertainty surrounding your return plans. Be specific and provide as much detail as possible about new policies and procedures you have established to promote safety in the workplace.

Don’t forget that communication is a two way street. Companies that neglect the feedback of their workforce could potentially face increased turnover, disengagement or performance issues. Ask your employees for feedback and listen to their concerns, questions and suggestions. Provide ample opportunity for dialogue through one-on-one conversations, confidential surveys or company meetings. Building employee input into your return plans will allow employees to feel heard and supported during this transition back to the office.

Frequent and transparent communication is key for an effective return to the office and will ultimately help employees navigate the transformation of the workplace.

Make sure your office works for your needs

Companies transitioning back into the workplace must evaluate whether or not their current office space still meets the needs of the company. Size, location and design are all important factors to consider — especially for businesses who are currently on the hunt for office space.  For example, if you are looking for an office in a city like Houston, where most people drive to work, you’ll want to make sure it’s commute friendly. A close look at the needs of the company will help you find an office space that supports your employees and your business.

Be ready to adapt

Together, we are learning how to navigate this new normal. What works today may not work a month from now. Be ready to adapt and make changes to policies or procedures for the benefit of your employees and company as a whole.

There’s no doubt that the return to the office will have its challenges. However, creating a plan, establishing health & safety measures, and communicating frequently will help ensure your employees that you are doing everything possible to provide a safe return to the workplace.

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