Successfully Returning Back to the Office After a Pandemic

It’s unclear when businesses will transition back to being 100% in-person operational, and that has caused a lot of unease about how it should be done. Though many businesses were resistant to the idea of having their employees work from home, now that they’ve been forced into it by the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers are questioning if they will ever have their employees return to an in-person facility.

Many businesses have noted that employee productivity is trending upwards while profits also continue to trend upwards. That has led several businesses to believe that there may be more value in continuing their remote workforce and to also take advantage of the cost savings from reducing office space, internet, electricity, and more.

However, although working from home has benefited many businesses, there are several industries that rely on in-person patronage and setups (think bars and banks), and they are eagerly awaiting approvals to return to work. For these industries, it is not only likely but important that employees are able to safely return to work in person. But how?

There are a number of steps that businesses can take to ensure that their employees can return to work in a way that is beneficial to the business, supportive of their employees, and compliant with regulations.

Comply with All Requirements

Most importantly, businesses must follow all local, state, and federal guidelines and mandates for reopening. Some businesses may have capacity restrictions or other guidelines that must be followed. But outside of these regulations, there are a number of things that businesses can do to ensure they are prepared once they can fully return to in-person operations.

Additionally, if your business has received a loan under the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP loan), it’s extremely important that you adhere to and comply with any requirements outlined by that loan.

Update Procedures

Even once all employees are able to return to work, things likely won’t be “back to normal.” Many procedures will need to be updated and should be updated well in advance of any employees returning to the office. Once updated, it’s important to share all of these procedures with the employees (and have them sign off on them) before they return to work or on their first day back.

Some procedures that may need to be updated include those that involve customer and vendor contact, office sanitation, meeting procedures, break room policies, and more. Updating these policies ensures that your employees have the most up-to-date procedures and that their behavior aligns with the needs of the business.

Determine the Reopening Phases

Rather than have all employees return to work at the same time, it is important to determine a phased approach where employees will return in groups.

Have the most essential workers return first—“essential” meaning those who most need to be in person for the success of their job. Although someone may have an executive role, that may not mean that they need to be in the first round of essential employees if they are able to successfully complete their job from home. This scheduling may also include rotating employees between in-office and remote schedules.

Before anyone returns, ensure the office setup is modified as needed to maintain sufficient distance between each employee and customer. This may include moving cubicles, changing the break room setup, adding touchless hand washing and door opening surfaces, etc.

Once you’ve determined the group that each employee falls into, select the timeframes in which each group will return. Ensure that the timeframes are selected with enough time in between to allow the business to measure the success of each group’s return and make adjustments as needed before the next group returns.

Also note that it is important to consider employees at high-risk for COVID-19 complications and have them return to work as close to last as possible or to determine a work-from-home schedule for them to continue remote work. Having high-risk employees prematurely return to work could expose the business to risks related to employment and discrimination law.

Conclusion

Returning to working in-office will require many steps and processes, but it is not unmanageable, and many businesses have already been seeing success as they’ve implemented their return-to-work procedures. The most important thing to keep in mind is the safety of your employees, customers, and vendors, and ensuring that your business complies with all legal regulations.

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