Safely Transitioning Back to the Workplace: 3 Considerations for HR
Laura Zifchak (Poggi)

By: Laura Zifchak (Poggi) on February 3rd, 2021

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Safely Transitioning Back to the Workplace: 3 Considerations for HR

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The COVID-19 vaccine is finally here, which means many businesses are beginning to think more seriously about when employees can safely return to the workplace. As a leader in your organization, one question is likely top of mind: How can we start preparing for the transition now? 


Whether your company plans to return to the office this year or is still waiting to make a firm decision, building a transition plan today will ensure fewer hiccups as the date approaches. A sustainable return-to-workplace framework must go beyond hand sanitizer and masks, taking the concerns and comfort levels of employees to heart. 


To guide your planning process, here are three core considerations to keep in mind.


1. HR must be highly visible throughout the transition

Many employees are understandably uneasy about returning to the workplace, especially if their commutes involve public transportation. In order to relieve concerns, it’s important for HR to be as visible and communicative as possible before, during, and after the transition.


Aim to be open and upfront about the safety measures being put in place, and make it as easy as possible for staff to keep themselves and others safe. For starters, be sure to communicate that your policy doesn’t discourage employees from staying home when they’re feeling under the weather. Can employees work remotely at their discretion when they don’t feel well? What should they do if they’re concerned they don’t have enough sick days left to cover a period of potential infection? Work with department leaders to outline what type of work can be accomplished remotely and how much flexibility staff can be afforded—then communicate this clearly to employees.


While you want your plan to be consistent, keep in mind that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work here. Not only will government regulations impact every region differently, but some employees may face challenges that the core plan doesn’t account for, like ongoing closures at their child’s school or regular contact with an at-risk relative. Focus on developing a system that prioritizes standardization while still taking regional and individual differences into account, then schedule time to speak with concerned employees one-on-one, and be prepared to make exceptions. 


Once you develop your plan—whether it’s a total transition back to the office or a new, hybrid schedule—make sure employees know how to access the company’s policies and safety guidelines. Ideally, this information should be available through a personalized knowledge portal that employees can access at any time via any device, ensuring they can pull it up at home if they have concerns and will immediately find the most relevant, up-to-date information. In addition to providing reassurance, this will reduce the number of questions your team has to field, saving you time in the long run.


2. Establishing a sense of connection with both on-site and remote employees is critical

The office can be a place where lifelong friendships are formed and meaningful interactions occur daily. But with employees dispersed at home, many may have forgotten the value of workplace connection and how much more rewarding it makes their jobs—making returning to the office more daunting than exciting. 


It will take time for employees to rebuild those connections with both coworkers and the company itself, but HR can do its part to help. Make it simple for employees to access HR however they feel most comfortable, and approach every interaction with empathy. You can also gather and analyze feedback on an ongoing basis and take steps to address recurring concerns, showing employees that you care.


To ensure staff who remain at home aren’t left feeling isolated when people start trickling back on site, ensure that all HR practices moving forward are not only accessible but convenient for remote workers. For example, if employees need to sign a document, they should have the option to do that electronically, since many won’t have a printer and scanner at home. By proactively thinking about their needs, you can strengthen their connection to the organization—and ensure greater business continuity in the event of another lockdown.


3. Resilience is a long game, not a quick fix 

If there’s one thing every HR leader should take away from the events of 2020, it’s the importance of having strong contingency plans in place. If another health crisis, natural disaster, or other major disruption strikes, will your organization be ready?


While it may be hard to imagine preparing for future crises as you work on managing the current one, the lessons learned last year are highly valuable and should be harnessed to make your organization more resilient. What can you do now to prepare for a company-wide shift to remote work, should it happen again? What tools, processes, and information can be brought online permanently to minimize both dependence on physical locations and compliance risks? Who in your organization has special expertise that they can bring to the table to make your plan even better? Forward thinking can make all the difference when new challenges arise.

Building transition and contingency plans can seem overwhelming, but there are a number of resources at your disposal to make it easier. To learn more about how modern HR solutions can help you confidently lead your organization through this period of uncertainty and change, download our eBook, Safely Returning to Work: Modern HR Service Delivery Solutions to Help Transition from Crisis to Recovery.

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About Laura Zifchak (Poggi)

Laura leads the marketing team for the PeopleDoc by Ultimate Software products in North America. She joined PeopleDoc in January 2015 to help HR teams learn about HR Service Delivery technology, understand how it benefits their existing business strategies, and become expert users of our platform as customers.

Laura has experience with bringing technical software solutions to market with prior leadership positions at both IBM and RTTS. She has an MBA from CUNY Baruch Zicklin School of Business, and a BS degree in Marketing from Siena College.

With years of practice managing teams through rapid growth and constant change, Laura is passionate about employee and manager experience, and using technology to help scale and improve operations.