With our region slowly moving toward allowing employees to return to their offices, it makes sense for your organization to take steps to ease this transition. After months of being locked down with most employees teleworking, your small business will need to carefully plan and execute the transition back to having staff partially or fully at your office location.
In this article, we will give recommendations on how to most effectively transition your organization back to having employees working from the office during the COVID-19 crisis.
Preparation, Flexibility, and Communication are the Keys for A Successful Transition
Living and working during the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for everyone, and the return back to a somewhat normal office working environment will also not be easy. The key qualities your organization should remember to emphasize throughout the transition process are preparation, flexibility, and communication.
Ensure That Employee Health and Safety Remain the Most Important Priorities
Your small company’s most important concerns throughout this process will be the health and safety of your employees. A recent Harris Poll revealed that a majority of employees are understandably hesitant to return to work and that fully a quarter will refuse to return until they feel their office environment is safe.
To ensure your office space is as safe as possible, your organization should follow these common-sense measures:
- Work closely with your building’s management company to ensure that there are enhanced, deeper cleaning measures at your workplace.
- Ensure that the building’s heightened sanitizing efforts will focus on common areas and surfaces (e.g., tables, desks, handrails, kitchen surfaces, doorknobs), which are more likely to transmit the virus.
- Reinforce employee attention to good hygiene practices via written and oral communication. Some points to stress to your staff include wearing facemasks indoors or within 6 feet of others, washing hands frequently, avoiding coughing into hands and touching faces, and continuing to limit personal contact such as hugging and handshakes. There should also be an abundant supply of hand sanitizer throughout the office containing at least 60% alcohol.
- Reposition desks and workstations to ensure that employees have at least six feet between them. Install plexiglass sneeze guards at workstations and provide personal protective equipment (PPE) such as facemasks, face shields, googles, and protective clothing for use in any work settings that require close contact.
- Encourage frequent personal cleaning of workstations and require deep cleaning of these areas after hours by the management company.
- Limit in-person meetings and include only essential participants. Any physical meetings that occur should be in sanitized, well-ventilated open spaces or outdoors if possible.
- Monitor the health of your employees and immediately send home any employees with symptoms of the virus such as a runny nose, sore throat, cough, fever, or breathing issues. In addition, your company should provide sufficient paid medical leave to ensure that employees are not reluctant to stay at home when they are sick or when they have a sick family member at their residence.
- Inform employees that mental health leave is available during this stressful time and make them aware of useful public resources to help them deal with any increased anxiety during this crisis.
Solicit Input From Staff and Communicate Regularly
To help overcome the heightened anxiety about the return back to the office, your organization should ask for continuous input from your staff members and keep them well informed of ongoing developments. Your management team should schedule time during weekly teleconferences and other virtual meetings to gather and discuss recommendations as well as answer questions or concerns that your employees have about the transition.
After sufficient input from management, the entire staff, and relevant stakeholders, your company should develop a thorough plan for a gradual return back to the office and then communicate it clearly to all stakeholders.
Your leadership team should also make sure to remind employees of the importance of continuing to monitor their health and to paying attention to the latest virus-related developments from reliable sources such as the CDC and the NIH. It is also important to remind your employees to be cautious of conspiracy theories and scams related to the virus.
In addition, leadership should always be easily accessible for employee feedback discussions, work reviews, work status updates, collaborative work sessions, and other interactions via various types of communication to help keep operations running smoothly throughout the process.
Utilize a Phased Transition Process
Management should also make a point to stress that the transition back to the office will occur in carefully planned phases to ensure the safety of employees and the continuing effectiveness of company operations.
Experts recommend three main phases in the process as described below:
- Phase 1 would open the office to management and essential workers as well as to those employees whose productivity would benefit the most from access to the equipment and space there.
- Phase 2 would open the office to employees who need more flexibility for various reasons such as those having young children at home, caregivers, or employees who have been hampered by public transportation issues.
- Phase 3 would be for an indefinite time period that would gradually open the office to employees with underlying health issues or with anxiety about the virus. Importantly, some of your organization’s employees might not feel prepared to return until a COVID-19 vaccine has been developed.
As with the various opening phases in states around the country, the key for your office is to have flexibility during these phases. These broad phases can be broken down into smaller time units and can target different types of employees as necessary to accommodate your organization’s needs.
Some companies will also benefit from developing a range of shifts and schedules of workers to limit the contact and density of workers at the office location. In cubicle and similar settings, your management should draw up detailed seating plans and work schedules to ensure employees always remain safely separated.
In addition, your office should also allow a substantial amount of teleworking to continue during these phases. As has been proven by the recent forced adaptation to remote work, there are also some employees and work groups that will be more productive in a partial or full telework setting.
Your company should also make it clear to your staff that it is prepared to return to full telework status if directed by government officials or if management decides the situation warrants this change.
Try to Maintain a Feeling of Normalcy and Encourage Safe Social Interaction
Another important idea your company should emphasize is that even though the office workplace environment has changed once again, the same productive work effort is expected from them, and any exceptional work will continue to be recognized. Your organization should reinforce this message by highlighting an employee of the week/month and recognizing them for their hard work and results during weekly team meetings. Trying to maintain a sense of normalcy in the workplace as much as possible will help smooth the transition process.
Your small business should also make a point to give your employees opportunities to blow off steam, socially interact, and bond as a work family. This is especially important during this unprecedented crisis. In short, a happier, less stressed worker that feels like they are part of a team will always be a more productive worker. When your employees are experiencing less anxiety as well as increased support from their colleagues, they will be more engaged and more effective at their jobs.
In addition, your company can help raise staff morale by offering useful links and contact information for charitable and volunteer organizations where your employees can donate their time and money to help those affected by the pandemic. Your employees will feel less helpless and more productive when they can donate their time and money to help make a difference in the ongoing fight against the virus.
Consult with your IT Support Partner
During this transition time, it is important to seek out guidance from a trusted IT Support partner, such as Network Depot. A reliable IT partner will have the experience and insight into your small company’s unique needs to help you most effectively follow the recommendations in this article. Your IT partner will offer suggestions on the best software tools, training materials, and other equipment that will assist your organization in effectively and efficiently carrying out the return to your physical setting during this uncertain time. They will also continue to support you in optimizing your operations during and after this complex transition process.
With the help of the recommendations above and the assistance of a trusted IT Support partner, your organization will be able to effectively transition back to its office location and continue to achieve its unique mission during the COVID-19 pandemic.