Returning to the office after a considerable period of lockdown will be one of the unique business challenges of this generation. There are a lot of questions on everyone’s mind: Is it safe to go back? How different will it be? What can I do to prepare? The answers will vary greatly from company to company.
In this special post, we’ll share essential tips, updates, and resources to help your business return to the office. Read on to learn more.
Preparing your team for a return to the workplace
Coming up with a clear plan for returning to the office will help avoid confusion and prevent possible transmission. Remember to take it slow and prioritize everyone’s safety each step of the way.
Start by understanding the guidelines and recommendations for returning to work, which varies by industry and location. In the White House’s Guidelines for Opening Up America Again, businesses will need to open up in phases, first allowing a limited number of people with face masks and social distancing in place, and then gradually easing restrictions to normalcy.
Business owners would do well to start understanding the new needs of your team. In a post-COVID-19 world, some team members may want to continue working remotely more or require a little more time before fully returning to work. Listen to each team member with an open heart, and negotiate on terms that work best for both parties.
In the beginning, a less is more approach may be safest. Only bring the staff you need at the start, and follow all local and national health recommendations, including wearing a mask and regularly washing your hands.
Healthy standards in commercial buildings
Around the world, each country has had its own response to the pandemic and has developed its own set of recommendations. As such, there are no widely held international health standards as it relates to coronavirus. With that said, there are a few common safeguards in countries that are opening up again.
In an unpublished study by the CDC and various national health institutes, experts believe the coronavirus can live up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel surfaces. This suggests that even in areas with decreasing numbers of cases, it’s still possible to contract or spread the virus by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your face.
Building managers should take extra precaution by sanitizing frequently touched surfaces: door handles, elevator buttons, tables, chairs, faucet handles, bathrooms, fridges, and of course workstations. The EPA has a list of cleaning products that are most effective against the coronavirus. In response, Novel Coworking also frequently sanitizes high traffic areas for our clients’ safety.
In countries that have already opened up again, face masks have become a part of everyday life. Although masks have generated heated debates, most medical experts including the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now believe they help prevent further transmission where social distancing isn’t possible. For symptomatic or sick individuals, masks prevent others from getting sick through coughs or sneezes. For healthy individuals, masks prevent the contraction of the virus.
Here is a helpful video made by the Czech Republic’s Minister of Health on why masks are so important:
You can find a cloth mask in many major retailers or you can also make your own using these steps from the CDC.
Some establishments have begun using infrared thermometers to identify workers and customers that may have fever-like symptoms. These work like normal thermometers, except they are completely contactless, and use lasers to take readings. Unfortunately, the efficacy of these devices is yet to be determined. It is highly possible for someone to carry the virus without displaying symptoms. There is also the legal question of temperature readings as medical examinations in the workplace.
Be sure to consult your company’s leadership if you are considering the use of temperature measurements at work.
Should you keep social distancing? At the time of writing and publishing, the answer is yes. Since the beginning, social distancing has proven to be the most effective measure against preventing the spread of the coronavirus. In the workplace, this means avoiding high traffic areas such as a water cooler or kitchen and teleconferencing or remote working whenever possible. Some employees have even implemented new food policies (bringing your own lunch into work and avoiding the lunchroom) and sneeze guards for heightened safety.
The Society for Human Resource Management has created a helpful guide to illustrate the importance of social distancing in the office.
Giving employees a choice of workplace
Over the past two decades, we’ve witnessed a major shift in the way people work. Companies have gone from leasing expensive cubicles to using private offices and coworking spaces. This shift has also opened up opportunities for smaller businesses to use shared space to both save money and improve collaboration.
But only in 2020, with most of the world’s workforce at home, did entrepreneurs and small businesses realize the importance of flexible working conditions. Workers that were required to come into work have suddenly found time and freedom. Leaders may have noticed higher engagement and overall morale in their team.
So why should you keep a remote team? Because in the event your offices or headquarters aren’t accessible, a remote team can continue operations as normal. For some companies, like a web or app development team, remote work is already ingrained into the culture, because of the nature of their technology.
More importantly, employees should have a choice in where they work. Greater workplace flexibility also means greater workplace engagement. In a Gallup survey, employees that worked remotely 60-80% of the time were more likely to believe their engagement needs were being met. Note that this isn’t quite the same as working from home, it just means giving employees the option of working in a different office or coworking space. This can help break boring commutes and daily routines.
Why remote work is not for everyone
As a business owner or entrepreneur, you may have noticed that some employees perform better remotely than others. This can happen for a number of reasons: their remote environment, their access to the Internet, distractions at home, or the simple need to be surrounded by other productive workers.
So how can you identify people that work well remotely?
Self-motivated. Hands down one of the most obvious indicators of someone who works well remotely is if they are able to set their own daily goals and tasks.
Autonomous. In the same vein, these workers tend to work best on their own, not always needing guidance or direction.
Great communicator. Remote work takes away many of the usual communications we tend to rely on, such as body language and tone of voice. Remote workers should be able to convey these nuances in their writing and communication.
Dependable. Remote workers should be someone you can count on when the going gets tough. Just because they can work from where they want, should not lessen their responsibilities.
Willing to improve. Working remotely can take some adjustment, but all that matters, in the end, is that the employee is willing to learn from their mistakes and do better in the future.
Is the choice between remote and in-office too difficult to make? One solution you can try (and may help in the transition back to the office) for your own team is to institute a hybrid remote/in-person work hours schedule. This means allowing your team to work from wherever they want a few days each week. This offers a greater sense of freedom and flexibility for your employees without sacrificing the productivity and collaboration that arises in the office.
Understanding psychological effects after a lockdown
Whether you’ve been directly affected by the coronavirus, or you’ve experienced severe cabin fever in lockdown, it’s important to address the mental health implications of COVID-19. People are feeling lost, scared, confused, and even angry, and it’s your job as a leader to provide some direction and assurance.
Identify early stress or burnout indicators. Just because someone works remotely does not mean they are having an easy time. They may be concerned about their family’s living situation or a mortgage that needs to be paid off. They may be overworking out of fear and could end up burning out without realizing it. Keep an eye out for these signs:
- Longer work hours
- Symptoms of fatigue, tiredness
- Bitter or abrasive attitude towards peers
- Repeated errors, mistakes
- Competitive personality
Schedule regular check-ins to see how your team members are handling their workloads. Offer emotional support to everyone in the company, regardless of title or role. As a society, we tend to frown upon individuals that exhibit emotions, viewing it as a sign of weakness. Instead, encourage your team to be honest about how they are feeling. Create channels that let them speak freely, and then refer them to the proper resources or counseling. A team cannot work effectively if its members are emotionally or mentally weighed down.
Create a safe environment for communication
Finally, it’s absolutely vital that you develop a system that encourages honest feedback and communication. Whether or not people are ready to return to the office, coming to a company-wide decision can only truly work if everybody feels rightfully heard.
There’s bound to be cases where people argue or debate for a number of reasons. In these cases, it’s important to hear both sides out but also to flat out reject any speech that may be used to belittle, demean, or injure someone else’s character. People should feel free to say whatever is on their minds, so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.
Tips to keep your team safe on the transition to the workplace
Establish a gradual transition to normalcy
For the past few months, your workers have grown accustomed to a new way of working. It’ll take some time to go back to normal. Although some of them may be ready to get out of their home, it’s in everyone’s best interest and safety not to rush the transition back to the office.
Start by having informal conversations with your team on how they feel, their level of comfort, and their overall decision to go back to work. If it helps, you may even want to make returning to work optional until a wider city or state order deems it safe to return. Always keep your team’s safety the priority.
Make it clear
Provide clear communication channels that distribute important updates as well as allow anybody in the company to report their concerns. For much larger companies, this is vital— dozens, perhaps even hundreds of people will be looking for leadership during these trying times.
Be as direct and supportive as you can in your communications. Your team should never feel lost, no matter what they are doing or what position they hold.
Adapt and evolve
2020 has upended many of the world’s preconceived notions about the workplace and work in general. Companies need to adapt accordingly. This requires taking a long, hard look at the company’s past and how to update the business for the future.
Enable new ways to collaborate online— whether that involves standup meetings, updated processes, or new tools. Ask yourself: how can your team come out of this pandemic stronger, smarter, and more capable than before?
Offer additional support and benefits
Sick leave, vacation days, 401k contributions… These are just a few of the perks that help engage team members. As other companies start ramping up their re-hiring efforts after the pandemic, your company will need to stay competitive to attract the best from the talent pool. One of the most effective ways to do this is to offer a benefits package that truly makes the team feel supported during tough times.
Going back to work will be a major undertaking, for just about any company. It will require considerable planning. There may even be risks along the way. But take this moment as an opportunity to grow, individually and as a team. 2020 has shown that many of our old ways of working must be updated for a new world. How will your company adapt?