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By Devon Maresco
Bringing employees back into the office post-pandemic is a strange experience for everyone. For employees who haven’t seen their workplace in a year or more, the return can seem both familiar and foreign. For employers, there’s a slew of new considerations for returning to the office, and there’s not always a plan for how to address them. Without a well-thought-out approach an abrupt move-back isn’t benefitting anyone. Instead, take a moment to consider how to facilitate a smooth return.
Bringing people back into the office safely and comfortably starts with a review of what’s changed. In some cases, it means reviewing new workplace guidelines from the CDC, OSHA, and other government entities. In other cases, it’s about taking into consideration best-practices and methodologies from experts and thought leaders. And, of course, it’s vital to listen to the concerns and expectations of employees.
The workplace may look familiar, but from here on out, it’s going to operate differently. It needs to, to accommodate an agile workforce in a post-pandemic work environment. Here’s how to make the return to office work smooth and comfortable, even in spite of the changes.
Return to work considerations for employers
When approaching an unfamiliar situation like a return to the office after an extended hiatus, the first and biggest consideration is all of the new variables involved. With perspective, a smooth return becomes a matter of building these new considerations into a viable plan. From social distancing to health and safety, here’s a look at the seven chief considerations for a return to the office.
- Infrastructure. Post-pandemic workplaces need to strongly reconsider the physical limitations of the space they operate within. Everything from desking concepts to distancing guidelines will change the dynamic of the space, and adapting means being able to look at available space through a new lens. How much square footage do you operate and what’s the new value of that space?
- Sanitization. Employees need to feel safe in their workplace. Beyond supplying hand sanitizer and cleaning products, companies need to develop systems for sterilizing and sanitizing workstations and shared environments between uses. Ask yourself if your CMMS or IWMS platform offers the ability to create booking buffers and automate cleaning tickets to expedite the time between uses in a safe way.
- Flexibility. The workforce has become more agile since the pandemic, which means supporting flex schedules, distributed teams, and modern concepts like hoteling. Aside from acclimating employees to more dynamic desking concepts, companies also need to make investments in software and systems to facilitate increased flexibility within the workplace. A smooth back-end system translates to an easier, more familiar experience for employees.
- Exposure. How can you structure the workplace to mitigate unnecessary exposure between employees—and to create contract tracing in the event of illness? Companies need to consider the logistics of their workplace environment before they bring people back, to anticipate and eliminate unchecked exposure situations. This requires consideration for everything from desking concepts, to office flow, to sanitization guidelines.
- Distancing. Distancing guidelines won’t disappear after COVID-19. Now’s the time to reassess office floor plans to create distance and comfort for employees. It’s also prudent to create new distancing policies and familiarize employees with them before they come back into the office. Distancing will give employees a sense of personal space and comfort, which can ease the return to a physical workplace and expedite the transition back to a normal work routine.
- Local conditions. Companies need to be cognizant of the local climate beyond their own workplace. While the U.S. is vaccinating at a rapid pace, vaccination rollout around the globe isn’t as quick. Companies with offices around the world need to take a return to the office on a case-by-case basis. It might be safe for a fully vaccinated office in Atlanta to come back to the workplace, but a partially vaccinated staff in Seoul might still be several weeks away from a return.
- Employee sentiment. Forcing employees back into the office is a recipe for frustration and low morale. For many organizations, flex work is a great compromise. For businesses where interoffice work is imperative, it’s vital to listen to employee concerns and make concerted efforts to address them.
Bringing employees back into the office takes more effort than putting up partitions and moving desks apart. In many cases, it means reassessing the way the office operates—both physically and procedurally. Consider these seven variables and use them to influence your decision-making process as you re-shape the workplace for a post-COVID-19 world.
Returning to work after COVID-19
Don’t get trapped in the mindset that these considerations are temporary. COVID-19 spurred new focus on workplace safety and utilization, and its effects are ongoing. From distributed teams to flex work policies, the workplace doesn’t play the same role it once did for companies. This isn’t to say it’s less valuable in any way—in fact, it’s even more valuable to the people relying on it to regain a sense of normalcy in their work habits. It’s up to companies to provide this normalcy via a smooth transition into a safer, more thoughtfully designed workplace.
Keep reading: Post-COVID Return to Work