With discussions about lifting stay-at-home orders dominating the news, business leaders everywhere are beginning to plan for an orderly return to work. As much as we crave the restoration of our regular work environment, we must also face the reality of the new normal.
Most likely, stay-at-home orders will be lifted with as much ambiguity as they were instilled, leaving businesses, employees and customers with questions about when and how to resume operations. As you formulate your return blueprint, rethink your office structure, introduce new protocols and begin to communicate your plans to your stakeholders. Following are some best practices to ensure a smooth transition back to the office after our collective experiment in remote work.
- Put employees first. The health and well-being of your workforce needs to be a priority as you consider your return to the office. As such, your physical space will need to be outfitted in a manner that acknowledges the reality of a pre-vaccine workplace. That includes reconfiguring workstations to promote social distancing, providing protective gear such as gloves and masks and making it convenient to sanitize high-touch areas such as door handles. Encourage employees to follow all safety and hygiene protocols to keep each other safe, and plan to limit and screen external visitors to prohibit infection from entering the work environment.
- Anticipate the challenges of a staggered start. Whether your office locations reopen at different stages, your workforce returns in waves or your customers or vendors remain on a restricted schedule, expect to encounter your share of fresh challenges, similar to those we faced when stay-at-home orders were issued. Changes to commutes and hours may be required; scheduled events and visits may remain virtual. Even in-office meetings may persist in a remote environment when the conference rooms have been built for 50 but can accommodate 10 safely-distanced attendees. Expect that a return does not mean resolution. To fully reclaim “business as usual” will take time and, most likely, a widely available vaccine.
- Prepare your facilities for heightened hygiene. Plan ahead to ensure your office is equipped to handle additional sanitation and cleanliness standards. Given the limited supply of important protective products, such as no-touch thermometers, masks, gloves and cleaning products, it’s advisable to begin ordering ahead of time so those materials are in place when employees return to their workspaces. It is also important to measure meeting rooms and common areas to ensure you can communicate and enforce occupancy limits that enable your team members to continue to practice social distancing for the foreseeable future.
- Adjust policies and protocols to the new normal. Human resource managers have needed to adapt to the evolving crisis in unforeseeable ways. The transition back to the office may require an even steeper curve as you work to accommodate an array of unique employee circumstances. Employees in a high-risk group or fulfilling a caregiver role may need to prolong their remote work or sick leave. Commuters face their own set of challenges, and employees reliant on public transit may require a flexible schedule or continued remote-work options. Strive for empathy and discretion in understanding your employees’ concerns and focus on the goal of maintaining a productive, united workforce rather than a physically present one.
While we all look forward to resuming normal schedules where pets and loved ones don’t disrupt business meetings, we must be realistic when it comes to returning to our physical offices. Continue to focus on being productive in your current virtual workplace, keep teams connected, engaged and motivated with regular video meetings and check-ins. We all need to continue to persevere while we plan for a new normal that combines the best aspects of the physical workplace we knew and the new virtual workplace we now inhabit to ensure we protect both our physical and emotional health going forward.
For new updates and other resources, please visit www.gscommunications.com/coronavirus, and do not hesitate to contact us with further inquiries. We know the uncertainty brings significant business risks, and we’re here to help.