The debate is on – Return to the office or continue the work at home experiment? There is no one right answer to this question, as every employer and employee is different. That said, a majority of organizations are contemplating the future and are beginning to discuss a “reentry plan” for employees in the office. Employers who are considering bringing employees back to the office must be thoughtful and deliberate in order to balance the needs of the employee, the murky, ever changing nature of COVID, and what the new office environment will look like and feel like. Make no mistake about it, we are not going back to the way it was.
Before opening the doors to your workplace and embarking on the “new normal,” make a plan for success! Revisit the membership on the COVID response team (whether it was ever formally designated or simply materialized) and assign a cross functional group of employees to contemplate what is needed and navigate the strategy. Will you require vaccinations? Will you rewrite your work at home policy? Is the current workspace appropriate moving forward? Does your employee handbook have the right policies in place?
Most importantly, what do your employees think? What is most concerning to them and what are they expecting? Consider conducting an employee survey before the planning begins to set the stage and ensure employee voices are heard and considered in the process.
In part 1 of our series, we discussed preparing the physical workspace to ensure it meets the needs of your employees moving forward. Once that is done, refocus on the people.
Part 2 – PREPARE THE PEOPLE
Begin by conducting a formal or informal survey of your team to understand what they think. What are their fears, questions, and recommendations to return to work? If a survey isn’t appropriate for your workplace, consider holding a virtual town all to elicit feedback and questions.
Next, create a cross-functional team to serve as a Return to Work Planning Team. The Team should consist of leaders and employees, including those in specialty areas such as maintenance, housekeeping, legal and HR. Assign a facilitator to hold regular meetings to discuss the plan and progress of re-entry into the workplace. One team member should be assigned to stay abreast of the ever-changing CDC guidelines and best practices.
There are a number of topics that need to be addressed by the Team. A focus on employee preparedness is a must. Also, consider whether or not the company will use a phased approach to move back to full capacity and if work at home programs will continue in the future. It is also important to revisit the definition of essential workers and clearly communicate designations to employees. Finally, research your mental health program and EAP services and make that information available to employees while you are communicating the plans. Communicate Team agendas and minutes to the entire workforce.
As you approach the reentry date, be sure to encourage sick employees to stay home and continue to educate employees on how to reduce the spread of COVID. As discussed at length in Part 1, be sure to have appropriate PPE and signage.
Once a reentry date has been established, reach out to vendors, customers and clients. Communicate your plan to them and confirm they will abide by your workplace rules. Review contact delivery and pick up options as appropriate, and ensure you have appropriate signage in the workplace. Post occupancy limits in waiting areas and other common spaces where vendors and other visitors frequent.
There are great resources to rely on as you prepare for reentry into the workplace, including:
- SHRM COVID Back to Work Checklist
- National Safety Council – A.F.E.R. (Safe Actions For Employee Returns)
- CDC – Returning to Work
- OSHA Guidance on Returning to Work
- Colorado Department of Labor and Employment – Return to Work Guidance for Workers
Click here to read Part 1 – Prepare the Physical Workspace. Stay tuned for Part 3 next month where we will focus on getting the right processes in place for a smooth transition.