While workplace design, new policies and protocols are expected, it is important not to underestimate anxiety employees may feel about returning to the office. While we have all weathered the same storm, understand “our boats” come in all different shapes and size and experience. Express empathy. Employees want to feel cared for. Begin communicating early and long before employees are expected to return. Consider the following tips:

  • Communicate a return to work plan; ensuring employee health and safety is of utmost importance and describe the changes your company is implementing immediately
    • Communicate frequently and through various messaging channels
    • Include the “why” and value of returning to work, i.e. productivity in proximity to peers, work tools and resources, socialization
    • Detail specific and clear expectations on new policies/protocols around social distancing
      • Encourage participation and adherence
    • Engage managers to incorporate messaging into regular meetings and check ins
  • Establish policies including a Work From Home policy for nonessential workers
    • Consider protocols for a phased in approach to reintroduction of essential workers
    • Determine if your company wants to screen employees and how
  • Determine when/who returns to work considering:
    • At risk employees
    • Exceptions for those that no longer have child/elder care resources available including extended school closures, day care facilities but we still don’t know availability of summer camps for those that have above 5 years old and less than 12 years old
    • Ensure you communicate “who/why” some employee groups are selected to return to work over others
  • Revisit Guest and Visitor policies and adjust to social distancing guidelines
  • Review and update Employee travel policies
  • Prepare and post expectations on social distancing
    • Depending on office size and layout, consider whether traffic patterns need to be established and marked up on the floor
  • Brainstorm and share alternative means of safe commuting
  • Stock up on cleaning/disinfectant supplies
    • Consider the possibility of providing masks, sanitizer, and wipes to employees
  • Communicate return to work plan with vendors and service providers to your office space to ensure services are provided for

Returning to work could be fraught with anxiety and fear for your team.  Don’t forget that in addition to taking care of your team physically, your greatest gift could be your empathy and understanding as we all come back together and try to move ahead.  Also, don’t be surprised if your office does not snap back to what you consider “normal.” Things have changed vastly from where we were a few months ago.  You will need to make room for new policies and procedures and new ways of working.  Adjust your view of normal as your new office takes shape, be patient and most of all be kind.

For additional resources, be sure to read OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19


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