It’s crazy to think that it’s been over a year since businesses were scrambling to get employees out of the office and were transitioning to working from home. Now that more and more people are getting vaccinated, conversations are picking up about when and how to return to the office. Google just announced its plan to go hybrid, with 20% of its staff expected to stay home, and many companies are likely feeling the pressure to make a decision on whether to return, stay remote or create a hybrid of both.
This is no easy choice for business owners. No matter what you decide, it will be a lot of work: policies and procedures will have to be created, and there will likely be employees resistant to change. If you do plan to return to the office, it will take a lot more than just dusting off desks and spacing them out to get your employees comfortable enough to come back.
We launched our new company hub — a dedicated co-working space just for Trainual — a few months ago after being fully remote for almost a year, and learned a lot along the way.
These are a few of the steps we took that made it easier to return to the office:
Step 1: Take a team pulse check
Our staff was our main priority when trying to figure out a plan, so we got them involved in the decision-making process. We took a poll to gauge their comfort level on returning to the office and shared the results at an all-hands meeting to turn it into a conversation. We laid out the results and gave everyone the opportunity to ask questions or share concerns. It gave us a better understanding of where to start and what we should prioritize in our planning.
Workplace health and safety was the biggest concern for everyone and likely is for a lot of other companies, too. Typically, federal and state regulations are a great starting point for safety guidelines, but it’s really only a baseline that can leave a lot open for interpretation and personalization. The minimum requirements set by your local jurisdiction might not be enough to give the majority of your team the comfort they need to feel safe to return to the office. A lot of the work falls on you, the employer, to look for other ways to reassure staff.
Step 2: Invest in an office overhaul
Getting your office ready for the returning team takes a lot of prep work in advance to put safety measures in place. Weeks before our office reopened, we installed air purifiers throughout the building, hand sanitizer stations at door entrances, sign-up sheets to limit the number of people entering and hired a cleaning service to deep clean and sanitize the office regularly.
Once safety measures are set, find ways to make your office a collaborative environment, such as bringing team members in to the office on alternating days, keeping 6 feet of space separating everyone and designating specific rooms to “Zoom” team members into important conversations. We installed a 360-degree camera system for our leadership meetings to make it feel like we are all in the same room.
Step 3: Communicating policies
Over-communication is a good thing right now. Direct and frequent communication is more important than ever, especially when it comes to returning to the office.
This situation is somewhat sensitive, so don’t blindside your team with any sudden changes or immediate plans to go back to the office. Schedule consistent updates on a weekly or biweekly basis leading up to the return date to keep everyone in the loop about what’s ahead. Use these calls to discuss safety measures in the works, timelines and the best person to reach for any questions — all simple things that can help calm everyone’s nerves, build trust and even retain employees who are feeling uncertain.
Create a place where employees can easily find policies, processes, safety measures, etc. These documents are usually scattered or hidden in drives and folders or behind a gatekeeper. By making them accessible to everyone on your team, it will help keep your team informed and on the same page.
Step 4: Dealing with fallout
Everyone’s situation is different, so not all of your team members will be able or even ready to return to the office. Some may be worried about their health or have children at home doing virtual school, or some may just prefer working from home. There is no one-size-fits-all approach here. The last thing you want to do is force someone into doing something they aren’t comfortable with.
The best approach is to be as flexible as you can be, and be direct and transparent with your employees. If you can and the business allows it, give team members the option to decide when they are ready to return, and be ready to answer some tough questions about how your team is able to work together effectively with one another in a hybrid setting.
Return to the office: Key takeaways
We are all learning as we go, so stay flexible and adjust as needed. Most importantly, as a leader, it is vital that you listen to your team. They are the ones dealing with the day-to-day challenges and can share valuable feedback to make it an easy return to the office.