5 Tips to Help your Staff Transition Back to the Office
Having spent roughly two years navigating life in a pandemic, under a plethora of lockdown and restrictive measures, economies and healthcare systems worldwide unanimously seem to have reached their tipping point; it’s time for employees to return to the physical workspace. For those who long for human interaction, this decision is warmly welcomed, but for others, it triggers profound feelings of anxiety. As an employer, you are likely now confronted by many novel considerations regarding your employees’ physical and mental wellbeing, in addition to the economic realities impacting your business. Our article, Six office interior tips for healthier, happier workers, offers some budget friendly ideas for remodelling the workspace to create a warmer, more productive environment. We’d also like to share our top five recommendations for managing the work-from-home – office transition.
5. Start Planning
You might have thought that being a business owner was as challenging as it gets…cue running a business during a pandemic. If you are among the fortunate who have not had to lay off staff and have managed to keep your business afloat, commendation is in order. Now that you are preparing to have your employees return to the office, it is essential to consider each stage of the transition. There is a wealth of information available online, specific to each country, so be sure to consult government websites for current recommendations in your area. If your context allows, engage with employees to assess their willingness/ability to return to work, and/or to submit to regular Covid testing at the workplace; determine appropriate policies to reduce the risk of infection and spread of Covid-19; inform employees of new policies; prepare the workplace for the physical return of staff; and determine policies and procedures in the event of exposure to the virus. This may all seem overwhelming at first, but careful planning will lay the foundation for a successful transition from work-from-home to in-person work.
4. Baby Steps
While in most instances the work-from-home phenomenon arose out of an immediate necessity to curb the spread of Covid-19, the physical return to the office requires a more delicate approach. Some suggest that, prior to the official return to work, employees be encouraged to re-establish their work routine; i.e., a few days per week, they should get dressed, make the commute to the office, prepare (within reasonable measure) for possible interaction with workmates and/or fellow commuters and return home. This should hopefully lessen the anxiety around returning to the workplace. Alternatively, implementing staff rotation or a phased return may also be advantageous as it would afford employees the physiological benefits of reconnecting with their physical work environment, while limiting the number of persons in the same space. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to staff rotation policies, however, whatever decision is taken, it is important that employees feel that their safety is a company priority.
3. Have Realistic Expectations
Undoubtedly the pandemic has significantly impacted economies worldwide. Employers are perhaps the most anxious to have their full complement of staff return to work. However, while getting back to “normal” seems to be everyone’s goal, for those directly impacted by Covid-19 (recovering from the virus, living with long Covid, loss of a family member, dealing with severe anxiety) “normal” may be a somewhat elusive concept. This reality necessitates that employers, as far as circumstances allow, take the time to know what challenges their employees are experiencing and adjust their expectations of what can be accomplished under these new circumstances. This would require patience, confidentiality and a degree of flexibility on the employer’s part. However, it is likely that creating an accommodating environment will facilitate the transition from work-from-home to the office.
2. Communication is Key
You may think, by now, that your employees might be experiencing information overload, but when it comes to ensuring their peace of mind, open and honest communication is vital. Of course, balance is required, the aim should be to be honest without fuelling existing anxiety. If the company does not currently encourage an open door policy, now might be the time to evaluate its effectiveness in your context. After spending several months void of direct human interaction, possibly countless hours reflecting on life’s big questions, or even recovering from Covid, you may find that some employees are now more willing to verbalise their concerns, especially regarding their physical safety in the workplace. The feeling of being heard also goes a long way in (re-)establishing the human connections that have been stymied by remote work. If circumstances do not allow for employees to engage directly with management, it might be prudent to revise the role of the HR department; and, where budgets allow, possibly even identify professional services to ensure employees’ access to quality care for their mental health.
1. Safety First
The primary concern for any employee returning to work is physical safety. What measures have been put in place to prevent exposure and spread of Covid-19? As you reflect on your company’s policies, bear in mind that these should be communicated simply and clearly to your employees. If and where possible, place posters in strategic locations inside and at the entrance of the building to remind staff of safety protocols and proper handwashing etiquette. Ensure that your safety measures are congruent with the protocols identified by the health and safety authorities in your area. Standard measures include physical distancing (visual demarcations where possible), regular sanitization of high contact surfaces, handwashing, and/or access to hand sanitizer, and mask wearing. Additional measures may involve regular Covid-19 testing and temperature checks. While the idea of a safety bubble seems farfetched to some, implementing and enforcing safety protocols should help staff feel more at ease in returning to the physical workspace.
In the event that returning to work involves relocating offices, feel free to contact us. We would be pleased to discuss your concerns in moving during a pandemic and offer trustworthy advice on safe options to meet your needs.
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