return to the office

How to Safely Return to the Office During COVID-19

In some areas of the world, lockdown orders are lifting, businesses are reopening, and many are hoping for a return to normalcy. As a leader, it’s a daily balancing act. I need to run a business, but I also need to ensure my employees are protected and have a safe work environment.

The response to the pandemic has been a mixed bag of emotions, and a source of conflict and disagreement for many. As entrepreneurs and company leaders, we have a difficult task at hand. As a company, you must consider what is best for everyone and learn how to manage fear in an empathetic, yet professional manner. It doesn’t matter the product vertical, sales model, or scale of your business.  At the end of the day, everyone in your organization has a role to play.

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With that being said, here are four tips to help your employees handle the stress of returning to the office:


Communication is essential to combat employee anxiety and prevent the spread of misinformation. Share regular updates regarding CDC guidelines, plus your own company policies and procedures.

Employees need to know what is expected of them in terms of social distancing, mask wearing and other practices. There have been many disagreements within these areas, and you need to be prepared for employees who refuse to comply. How will you handle those who continue to openly disagree or those who make others uncomfortable with their behavior?

To ensure that your company culture promotes mental health and wellbeing, make it a priority to establish regular check-ins. Employees should feel safe and comfortable when they return to work. Thus, you will need to follow-up to see how everyone is settling in and ask them what they need from you. By including employees in the discussion, you will help them feel involved and give them a voice during a time when many feel helpless.

Related: 4 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Boost Their Mental Health

Prioritize health and hygiene

It’s your responsibility to ensure that your employees always know what’s expected of them and what they can do to prevent the spread of germs. Companies have implemented various forms of COVID-19 prevention, such as mandatory health screenings, biometrics and proximity sensors.

To help manage employee fears, you will need to consider the following:

  • Daily temperature checks: A process will need to be put in place to ensure this runs smoothly, such as employees arriving to work early, and forming lines that comply with social distancing rules.
  • Sanitizing stations: Make sure that hand sanitizer is readily available throughout the office. Consider setting up a designated area where employees are required to sanitize when coming or going.
  • Maintain six feet: If possible, rearrange desks to ensure six feet of space, and limit the number of employees in the office at a time.
  • Regular office cleanings: Establish a routine and ensure that employees keep clean workspaces.

It will take extra work and planning, but a clean and sanitized office will help prevent the possible spread of the virus as well as reassure employees.

Be flexible

While some employees are eager to return to the office, there are others with extenuating circumstances that need to be considered. If the last few months have taught us anything, it’s that many positions not previously considered remote can now be performed from the comfort of home. The prospect of remote work has been normalized at this point. Now, many employers and employees alike view it as a standard practice for the workplace.

You also need to remember that employees are not isolated individuals, and that many of them may be responsible for elderly family members or have children at home. Others may be at higher personal risk. In these cases, make accommodations and allow them the choice to continue working from home.

Adjustments will need to be made on a case-by-case basis. We’ve never dealt with something on this scale before, and because of that, there’s room for the typical rules to bend. The most important thing here is that employees are reassured that their safety always remains your top priority.

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Provide resources

The pandemic has stripped away our sense of control and safety. Many of us are dealing with the fallout of this new normal, which can take a harsh toll on one’s mental health.

One way to combat this negative mindset is to ensure that your employees have an outlet and the ability to seek help if needed. Your HR department needs to be equipped to manage rising fears and should also be empowered to provide access to counseling, wellness programs and health care.

The only way we’re going to get through this is together, so make team building a priority. There are ways to foster team morale and promote company culture through encouragement, empathy, and communication. Take time to check up on your employees and remember that at the end of the day, they’re going to look to you as a leader.

Key takeaways

You can set the tone for your employees returning to the office. While it will take work, you can provide a safe and comfortable environment that allows your team the best chance to prosper and succeed.

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