Ready to Bring Employees Back to the Workplace? Here Are 12 Things to Consider
Est. Read Time: 3 min.
As more states relax sheltering-in-place restrictions and permit organizations to reopen their doors to the public, HR departments will be busy coordinating those efforts. The list of things to do can seem daunting. Over the years, I learned that one of the best ways to tackle a big task like this one is to organize activities into smaller sections, so the effort is more manageable.
So, in thinking about everything that needs to be done when bringing employees back to the office, here’s a list divided into three sections: before, during, and after.
Before employees return
Organizations will want to consider these activities before the first employee comes back to the work environment. It’s possible that some of them are already in motion, especially if you’ve had employees occasionally visiting the office space while most employees are working remotely.
Put together an “opening team.” The team's first task should be to understand what the requirements are for your geographic area and industry in terms of safety requirements (i.e. numbers of employees allowed onsite, customer capacity, distancing requirements, etc.)
Look at the work layout. Discuss what should be done with workspaces to permit proper distancing. This includes individual desks, conference rooms, employee break areas, as well as customer areas.
Talk with legal and risk management. Find out the answers to questions about bringing back employees from furlough or terminated status. Be prepared to address onsite testing as well as contact tracing policies and procedures.
Ask managers to begin talking with employees about returning to work. Find out if managers have any questions that will need to be addressed. Consider giving employees who are apprehensive about returning some additional time working remotely.
During the employees' return
I’m sure there will be a phase-in period where employees start showing up to the office. It’s also possible that employees might work in a transition phase where they spend a couple of days working remotely and then a couple of days in the office. Workplaces will have to be flexible during this time.
Establish a monitoring committee. This group will have a different task from the opening team and could be in place longer. This committee will be responsible for monitoring local updates and communicating to employees any changes in protocols.
Create a welcome letter. This correspondence can be done via email or video and it’s designed to tell employees what to expect in the new office environment. In fact, it could make sense to have a general message from the CEO and another one from the employee’s direct manager.
Give managers flexibility. Speaking of managers, it might be helpful to give them more flexibility than usual in offering employees staggered shifts, flexible work hours, and the ability to approve remote work.
Put a procedure in place for employees to express their concerns. No one wants employees to choose between their safety and their job. Let employees know if they see something that makes them uncomfortable, how they should address it. The goal here isn’t to get people into trouble. It’s to keep everyone safe.
After most employees have returned
As more employees return to the office, the organization will want to figure out how to get back to “normal”. Frankly, employees will be looking for that as well. It helps everyone stay focused and productive.
At this point, organizations might be thinking about business travel. It might be necessary to redefine what's considered essential and non-essential business travel. Some of this might tie into a revised budget.
Evaluate technology needs. Hopefully, we won’t face another pandemic, but employees might need better technology that gives them the ability to be productive while working remotely. Make sure they have the right technology to support their work.
Conduct a debrief. Organizations will hear that the government is permitting them to do something but that “something” may/may not be best for the organizations’ business model and employees. Companies will have to start deciding how – as restrictions are relaxed - they will make decisions.
- Finally, put together an emergency plan for next time. Again, hopefully you’ll never have to use it. While all of these thoughts are fresh in everyone’s mind, put a plan on paper.
Everyone has the same goal
We’ve all heard the comment that these are unprecedented times. This means we haven’t been through this situation before so there aren’t any best practices to draw from. If there’s some good news, it’s that we can look at similar situations like emergencies, employee onboarding, and project teams to come up with a list of the activities that we know work, like opening teams, welcome letters, and debriefs.
It’s always good to keep the company’s legal and risk teams in the loop to help keep everyone informed of the latest legislation as well as minimize any potential liability. And in today’s technology driven business world, it’s essential that the organization has the technology infrastructure in place to keep the operation going (regardless of business conditions). This includes having the HR technology to help employees work productively—both inside the office and remotely.
Last, but certainly not least, organizations want to continue to encourage open and honest communication with employees to allow them to feel comfortable with any changes happening including new working arrangement. Because that’s the goal—to bring employees back to the workplace safely.
Looking to learn from what other HR leaders are doing to return employees to work? Join our next virtual HR meetup on Wednesday, May 13th at 3pm ET.
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About Sharlyn Lauby
Sharlyn Lauby is the HR Bartender and president of ITM Group Inc., a Florida based training and human resources consulting firm focused on helping companies retain and engage talent. Sharlyn sees human resources as a strategic partner - the marketing department for a company’s internal clients rather as administrative. During her 20+ years in the profession, she has earned a reputation for bringing business solutions to reality. Prior to starting ITM Group, Sharlyn was vice president of human resources for Right Management Consultants, one of the world’s largest organizational consulting firms. She has designed and implemented highly successful programs for employee retention, internal and external customer satisfaction, and leadership development. Publications such as Reuters, The New York Times, ABC News, TODAY, Readers Digest, Men’s Health and The Wall Street Journal have sought out her expertise on topics related to human resources and workplace issues.