Back to Office: Preparing for Your Employees’ Return to the Workplace

Remote work became the norm as businesses strive to keep afloat during a pandemic. But recent events suggest that it’s only a matter of time before this ends. With vaccine programs well underway, several business leaders are looking to reopen their offices.

Unfortunately, several challenges have also emerged in the new normal.

Preparing to return to the workplace requires a sound strategy. The pandemic isn’t over, and carelessness can lead to health and safety risks. Business leaders need to anticipate the challenges and react to them accordingly.

Workplace Safety Amid a Pandemic

The primary challenge business leaders will face is how to ensure workplace health and safety. From a business perspective, safeguarding employee well-being is essential to operations. It only takes one asymptomatic employee to infect the rest of the people working in the office.

Before developing a back-to-office plan, business leaders need to study federal, state, and city orders. There is a possibility some locales prohibit this plan even as restrictions ease. Any plans to return to the office must be made in compliance with the law.

Returning to the workplace will likely require new health and safety protocols.

  • Deep cleaning and sanitization will need to be scheduled regularly.
  • Workstations will need to be moved to promote social distancing.
  • Employee schedules will need to be changed to prevent crowding.

Also, business leaders need to come up with a plan in case someone is sick. This should include a contact tracing process, a communication plan, and how to handle the situation in the workplace.  

Employee Reaction and Expectation  

Business leaders can’t expect their employees to be on-board with their back-to-office plan immediately. Although everyone has lived through the pandemic, they have different experiences. Business leaders should be empathetic and understanding of their employees’ thoughts and opinions.

Refusal or Hesitation to Go Back

There will be employees who will refuse to return. They will question the reason behind it, especially if they can do the same work at home just as well. Some employees might refuse because they have medical conditions that increase their risk of getting infected. It is the job of business leaders to address these concerns.

Request for Flexibility

There will be employees who discovered working from home is agreeable to them. They will have a difficult time adjusting back to the workplace. Some employees might even be more productive at home. Business leaders should look into changing work schedules to accommodate these discoveries.

Request for Testing

There will be employees who expect regular swab testing. They will cite the situations where they will be exposed to people outside of their bubble. Business leaders should anticipate these requests, and if they agree to them, they must allocate a budget for them.

The workforce is a business’s greatest asset. When business leaders fail to realize this, they are prone to making decisions that can alienate employees. This is a time for conversations—asking employees their opinions on the matter is essential to coming up with a sound back-to-office plan.

How to Return to the Workplace

Understanding the challenges to returning to the workplace is essential in coming up with a sound plan. It allows business leaders to take a proactive approach and create contingency plans.

Realign Business Values

The unprecedented situation has caused employees to re-evaluate their values, beliefs, and drive. Business leaders are tasked with the responsibility to realign their employees to the organization’s values.

Provide Mental Health Resources  

The pandemic took a toll on employees’ mental health. Business leaders need to be empathetic and understanding of employees who are experiencing anxiety, depression, and anger because of the health crisis.

Allow for a Transition Period

The plan to return to the workplace should be gradual. Employees will be changing their habits as they make the shift from home to the office. In addition, management teams will likely have to create new processes to account for the situation.

Prepare for a Split Culture

Currently, restrictions still prohibit commercial spaces from operating at full capacity. This means some employees will return to the workplace while others will continue remote work. Business leaders need to prepare their management teams for the split culture this will create.

Returning to the workplace amid a pandemic is possible. But business leaders need to be prepared. Otherwise, the months of remote work will have been for nothing.

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Keep Your Employees Happy When They Are Working At Home

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According to recent research conducted by Gartner, 80% of business owners intend to allow remote working to continue in some form after the pandemic. This signifies a major change in working habits as many people are expected to take up the flexibility offered around office hours. The benefit for employees is obvious, with a recent survey of teleworkers saying that 37% of them would be willing to take a 10% pay cut to work from home. To ensure productivity, Employers in the future will need to figure out new ways to keep their employees motivated while working from home. Here are a few to encourage your employees to remain focused when working remotely. 

Office Equipment 

To fully support remote working, you will need to overhaul your IT infrastructure to ensure devices access your systems from all the different locations where your employees will work. Alongside this, you will need to make sure employees have suitable equipment that allows them to stay comfortable. If your employee is working from a sofa, bed, or an unsuitable table then they may develop strain in their neck or lower back. Discomfort will decrease productivity. Consider equipping your team with an adjustable laptop stand like the ones found at to allow them to work safely while standing or sitting. 

Rewards and Treats

When working in an office, the occasional treat when working on a difficult project or as a pick me up at the end of the working week can help your team feel valued. Sending something to their home will demonstrate that you still appreciate the hard work and they have not been forgotten about. If you do not have the time to mail out a present to every employee’s house, then a voucher for an online store or a local coffee shop is a good alternative. An occasional coffee has a proven track record as a strong motivating perk for office workers. Rewarding an employee while they are working at home shows them that you still value and appreciate their input during their home-working time. 

Respect Their Time Off 

Just because an employee is working from home does not mean they are constantly available to work. Employees still need to have downtime, away from their devices. Otherwise, they risk becoming overly tired and they will burn out. Ask your employees for a schedule of when they intend to work and try to only contact them within their working periods. Be aware that this may require some readjustment as they may have chosen working hours that do not match your usual schedule. An example would be that while working from home a parent may do the school runs and so would prefer to work into the evening than to start work at 9 am on the dot. Ask employees to also respect this boundary, so you can have your time off protected as well. 

Finally, remember that flexible working does not mean an employee has to disappear, use video messaging and other forms of communication to stay in touch and ensure your team is still working well together.

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