When COVID-19 required offices to abruptly shut down, millions of employees found themselves in the new world of remote work. While working remotely wasn’t a new concept and had been steadily growing before the pandemic, the need to keep COVID-19 from spreading in highly populated office environments made it seem ubiquitous. In fact, according to NCCI, one-third of the entire working population in the U.S. was working remotely in May of 2020.
We’ve all witnessed the rise of the pandemic, but we are now seeing the drop - both a drop in infections and a drop in anxiety. With the advent of “the new normal,” many employees are now facing the prospect of putting their sweatpants away and going back to working in the office environment once more.
The transition that awaits your employees is not one to be taken lightly after almost 2 years of working from home. That’s why you need to intentionally craft practices that will help make that transition smooth and your company culture thrive.
Some ways to best transition your employees include:
Know ahead of time if you’ll have a mask policy or not
If your state doesn’t have already established mask policies for the workplace, decide if you want to establish one or not. Guidance on whether or not it’s still necessary has been muddled lately, and the guidance of whether to mask or not to protect everyone’s health rests on your shoulders. If you opt to leave the decision to the employees and their preferences, communicate that their preferences will be supported and respected.
Provide resources for sanitation of employees and workspaces
One thing you’ve probably noticed already is that one of the biggest sources of anxiety for employees returning to in-person work is the limited control they will have over their surroundings. After a pandemic, that means making sure everyone stays safe and healthy is a top priority. Provide employees with resources you didn’t need when you had an empty office such as:
- Hand sanitizer stations
- Anti-bacterial wipes for shared work surfaces
- Paper towels in the bathroom instead of hand dryers
Refresh everyone’s memory on all company policies
Some company policies didn’t apply to employees while they worked in their living rooms. Additionally, your “new normal” may have made it necessary to adjust some policies and update them to the current situation. Provide the means for employees to review these company policies before returning to the office. Once they’re back, be extra intentional about enforcing them while everyone experiences the adjustment period.
Embrace being in person again
One thing that a lot of people experienced during the pandemic were feelings of isolation. While working from home, employees missed the everyday interactions they had with colleagues and they missed how much easier collaboration was in-person. When you get everyone back to the office, be intentional about creating opportunities for employees to interact with one another in person instead of continuing to conduct all business online. Give employees a chance to get used to working in an environment filled with people again.
Open the door for feedback
Before everyone returns, let them know what changes or improvements they can expect to the office environment when they return. Open communication for any feedback they may have on those changes or on returning to work in general. Ask them what their concerns are in regards to returning and address what you can before they even step foot in the door. The more feedback they can give you, the better you can make it a smooth transition for them.
Don’t throw away your new communication tools
As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. When employers were faced with a workforce spread out over miles and possibly even state lines, the way everyone communicated had to change and go high-tech. When it’s time to come back to the office, don’t throw programs like Slack or Google Chat to the wayside. These tools are not only comfortable for your employees now, but they also provide alternatives to forms of communication that take up more time such as in-person meetings and email exchanges.
Be patient with the process and the people
Your workforce may have pivoted quickly and possibly overnight, but that doesn’t mean your transition back has to go at the same speed. If you can offer your employees flexibility as they return, consider it. For example, offer chances for a hybrid set-up where employees increase their time in the office incrementally. Remember that the past two years have been tough on everyone physically, emotionally, and mentally. Returning to in-person work will be a shock to the system, and your patience and support as an employer will be appreciated.
Have more questions about ways you can help your employees or make some of your processes more efficient? Complete Payroll has a fully updated blog site that can help you find articles on any topic HR-related. Visit our website for all of our HR assistance information.