4 Tips for Moving Workers Back into the Office

Many businesses were taken by surprise as stay-at-home orders were announced in March 2020, forcing companies seemingly overnight to suspend in-office operations and pivot quickly to entirely remote workforces. Returning to the office as the pandemic waxes and wanes will likely be a more gradual, long-term process. 

The most likely path forward for workplaces across the country is a slow transition using a hybrid workplace model. What does that look like, and how can businesses maintain productivity in these heterogeneous environments? 

A hybrid workplace is one that shares characteristics of the traditional, centralized corporate headquarters with a dispersed, remotely based workforce. The idea is to reduce contact between employees while still allowing for a return to some of the benefits of a traditional workplace, especially for workers who want them. 

At the same time, during this transitional phase, many employers may opt to continue allowing for the maximum amount of telework possible in order to ensure workers’ comfort. In addition, further cleaning activities may be required, as well as health screens like temperature checks. 

Here are four tips for companies moving employees back into the office.

1. Alternate days

While social distancing guidelines are still in place, workers will need to be able to maintain six feet of separation at all times. Some offices, especially those with open floor plans, aren’t necessarily set up for this. 

As such, employers may establish rotating schedules for when different team members, or certain departments, may have access to the office. 

2. Ensure employee safety with spacing requirements

Limiting the number of people in the office is the first step. Offices will also have to decide how to space workers out. For instance, if members of a department sit together, and all members have access to the office on the same day, their workstations will have to be reconfigured in such a way as to allow for social distancing. 

Conference rooms may be unavailable, requiring conference calls to still be the norm, even if you’re in the next room from the person you’re speaking with.

Cafeterias and other common spaces may be off-limits during initial phases, or spacing may be required in those shared areas, along with occupancy caps. 

3. Keep connected and stay safe

In this kind of hybrid environment, it’s important for business leaders to be viewed as careful, thoughtful and supportive as workers move back into shared spaces with their colleagues. Managers have to address employee concerns during this transitional time. 

First of all, leaders should be able to assure their employees that they are: 

  • Adhering to federal, state and local guidelines regarding workplace safety, even as these regulations can change from one week to the next. 
  • Proactively monitoring public health suggestions and implementing best practices to help employees stay safe at work. 

Additionally, it’s important to listen carefully to workers’ concerns and needs.

A May 2020 Gallup poll found that 46% of workers were at least moderately concerned about catching COVID-19 while on the job. 

Employees at your company might also have concerns about: 

  • Meeting their child care needs, especially if school closures remain a possibility. 
  • Deteriorating infection rates prompting localities to reverse course on reopening guidelines. 
  • Maintaining relationships with colleagues when they no longer share the same work environment. 
  • Collaborating with employees who are remotely based, whether temporarily or permanently.  

The exact strategies you deploy will be based on your unique workplace and your employees’ needs, but investing in the right kind of collaborative tools can help ensure that your workplace remains connected, no matter how things change. 

4. Use the right tools for a hybrid workplace

Several collaborative tools can help you ensure that your workforce can maintain productivity in a blended work environment, especially as remote work becomes more common, even after the pandemic recedes. 

Here are some tools worthy of serious consideration: 

  • Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP): Instead of using traditional landlines, a virtual VoIP number will ensure your employees can make and receive internal and external calls whether they’re in the office, working from home or traveling on business, once that’s feasible. 
  • Web conferencing technology: Blended meetings conducted over video conferencing and screen sharing tools offer better communication than can be achieved using traditional voice-only conference calls. 
  • Chat and instant messaging: A quick question or some simple small talk might not be worth picking up the phone to call your colleagues. Instead of those impromptu face-to-face drop-ins, chat tools can facilitate quick conversations. 
  • Unified communications (UC): Integrating all of your communication channels ensures that there’s no last-minute scrambling to connect. There’s no issue if a colleague is suddenly working from home on a day when you thought they’d be in the office. 

The future of work is changing. What will the new normal become? These tips are just the starting point to help bring workers back into offices safely.

But the conversation around the distributed workforce is only starting.

There will be continual room for growth as employers work out plans and strategies to bring workers back into their offices, while accommodating an ever growing pool of remote workers

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Nicholas Rubright
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