As the end of summer rolls around and we turn the corner into fall, many offices are gearing up to reopen following a period of working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the shelter in place orders have been lifted in many areas for a while now and some businesses have been back in-office for a month or more at this point, many small businesses have been slow to reopen their brick and mortar locations – and for good reason. There are many regulations that must be met in order to safely reopen, and, in many cases, employees are not in a hurry to return to working in close quarters given that COVID-19 is still spreading in many regions throughout the country.
Meeting the established CDC guidelines for reopening an office building is obviously a must before you invite your employees back to the workplace, but there are a handful of other things you can do in addition to help your team members feel comfortable and confident about returning to the office.
How to Help Employees Feel Comfortable Returning to the Workplace After COVID-19
If you’re an employer preparing to reopen your office to employees this fall, these ideas are important to keep in mind if you’re hoping to ensure that workers feel safe and comfortable returning to the workplace.
This is somewhat of a no-brainer, but it’s still worth stating. Make sure your office space is cleaned – and cleaned thoroughly – before you expect employees to return to the workplace. In addition to eliminating germs, a cleaning will also make the space fresh and clear of dust and dirt that may have collected over time while the office was closed and not in use. Hiring a professional to clean and sanitize will be well-worth the investment.
Looking for easy ways for employees to keep their own individual workspaces clean and hygienic? Share these tips for workspace cleaning that take minimal time and effort.
Stagger Return Dates
If possible, it’s a good idea to invite employees back to the office in shifts rather than having everyone return all at once on the same day. Reduced capacity will enable employees to have more space, making it easier to socially distance while in the workspace. This will give your team members more time to acclimate to working in close proximity to other people again.
Depending on how you stagger your workforce, this may also help employees ease back into the workday routines and patterns. For instance dividing your team into two groups and having one group in the office Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and the other group in the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays will allow alternating work-from-home days. This can be helpful as people re-acclimate to the routines of a work day that involves commuting, packed lunches, and interacting with co-workers and clients in person.
Consider Allowing Some Employees to Continue Working Remotely
While some people can’t wait to get back into the office, for others working from home was an ideal scenario. Some employees thrive on the flexibility and freedom that working remotely allows. In fact, they may do their best work when isolated or working in an environment other than an office space.
It’s worth recognizing that remote work, though challenging in many ways especially during a pandemic, has its benefits. Allowing some employees to continue working remotely may be beneficial all-around, for your company, the employees who choose to return to the office, and the employees who have found they work best when working from home.
Be Flexible & Empathetic
Remember that most employees have spouses or other family members who are also dealing with the repercussions of the pandemic. Some families may be reconfiguring schedules in order to homeschool their children. Others may be searching for alternative daycare options. Some may be adjusting to living off of a reduced income, or working to accommodate a new work schedule or configuration for a spouse. Some may be nervous about returning to work due to health issues or being immunocompromised. As a result, returning to work may be more complicated than it seems at first glance.
Do your best to be empathetic and understanding as you roll out your reopening plan. It is in your best interest to be flexible and work with individual employees to find a plan that works both for their specific scenario and comfort level and for your business.
Inform & Communicate Clearly With Employees
You may have followed all of the guidelines established by the CDC and gone above and beyond them to make your workspace as safe and comfortable as possible for employees, but if you don’t inform your team about the steps you have taken, they may still doubt the safety of returning to work. Be clear and articulate about all the measures you’re implementing to make your workplace as safe, comfortable, and clean as possible. You may think that people won’t care about the nitty-gritty details, but they do!
Additionally, it’s important to communicate with your team about your expectations, and your flexibility and understanding when it comes to reacclimating to working in-office. This will help to put employees’ minds at ease and leave them feeling more reassured and confident (rather than skeptical and anxious) as they return to work in person.
Returning to the Workplace Doesn’t Have to be Scary for Employers or Employees
We’ll be feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean employees and employers need to be fearful. Following the guidelines laid out by the CDC and implementing these tips can help you to confidently roll out a return to the office that everyone is comfortable with.
Being prepared for change and ready to adapt to the new normal will help businesses to pick up where they left off and carry on after this period of isolation has ended and we’re able to move forward.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by this, take a moment to remember: every business owner and employee in every industry is feeling the impact of COVID-19 in some way or another. We’re truly all in this together.
Looking for other COVID-19 resources to guide your small business? Be sure to check out the following for additional insight to help you navigate this challenging time:
Greeting Customers in the Age of Coronavirus: Learn about alternatives to the handshake so you’re prepared to interact with clients and customers when your office reopens.
Returning to Work After COVID-19: What to Expect: Read our predictions for what office life will look like following social isolation.
How to Have Effective Virtual Meetings: Find out how to collaborate virtually if some of your team members continue working remotely.