While the dangers of COVID-19 are not yet over, many organizations are planning to bring their employees back to the office. Some employees see this as a welcome relief from the isolation of remote work. However, others consider it as a disruption that is bigger than the shift to working at home.
Recent studies conclude that only 12% of employees are interested to get back to the office and work full-time.
Regardless of whether the managers and employees are willing to return to the office, leaders should use this as an opportunity. They should demonstrate empathy and develop stronger connections to drive high performance.
As leaders and managers discuss the idea for an eventual return to in-person work, here are some recommendations to ease the transition back to the workplace.
1. Provide guarantees for a safe work environment
Health hazards are the primary concern between the office we once visited and the future of the workplace. Consequently, the idea of going back to the office raises concerns.
However, both employees and employers are aware of the issue and should together work on ways to combat it. As a leader, you must prepare a realistic plan to fight in-office health. It includes strategies, such as:
- Replanning office paths.
- Creating additional space between desks.
- Performing health check-ups for your staff at periodic intervals.
- Introducing a strict room-booking process to avoid overcrowding.
- Allowing people to attend offices at different times of the day.
- Hosting routine meetings via video calls.
2. Reduce uncertainty
Organize frequent and regular communication sessions with your employees. Share new information and decisions as and when updated. Provide answers to all their questions and check if they require more information.
3. Be patient
If you aren’t involved in the decision-making in your organization, allow your employer to be the leader. Inform your team members about whatever information you receive, but focus on practicing patience. Patience allows you to wait for more data, thereby, make informed decisions during this time.
4. Ask employees for feedback
Get an understanding of the expectations of your team or organization. Know their needs for transitioning back to the office by conducting a survey or organizing focus groups. Collect feedback from various employees and use those ideas to frame the return-to-work strategies.
5. Develop a one-on-one connection with your employees
Ask your team members if they have any inhibitions or concerns while returning to the workplace. Take note of the individual concerns. Discuss with your HR team to take necessary action and prepare for the same.
The return to work process gives leaders and managers an unprecedented opportunity to develop new team norms and establish new ways of working. If you focused on performance and accountability earlier instead of culture, it is time to reset expectations and be specific about the working of your team.
Companies Cautiously Resume Operations
In May 2020, the government allowed some companies to resume work under strict guidelines. This was a measure to fight the impact of coronavirus on the Indian economy.
Companies believed that employee safety workplace hygiene is the prime focus. They knew that they needed to make changes to keep the employees safe.
Top companies like Infosys, Samsung, and Maruti Suzuki reopened offices and factories. They calibrated staff strength, understanding that any incident of infection can prove costly. New protocols for sanitization and deep cleaning were implemented. In certain workplaces, there was also a need for introducing changes to the layout of the workspace, like moving workstations to create physical space between employees and altering employee schedules to lessen the number of people present in the building at one time.
Even today, as more and more companies plan to resume in-office work schedules, they need to implement preventive measures against coronavirus.
Employer Precautions and Policies to Abide By
Employers must follow policies and precautions laid by the government, such as strict sanitization procedures and thermal scanning. Along with these measures, some of the other necessary practices to include in your return-to-work strategy include:
- Discussing the entrance with the building management. This discussion must address concerns regarding how many people can use the elevator at one time, do they need to wear protective equipment, and if access to the building is limited to a specific number.
- Checking items related to temperature control, ventilation, humidity, and other factors of the HVAC system. The environment indoors must be hygienic and fresh.
- Examining the reception area to decide the number of seats to facilitate physical distancing.
- Adding important signages to give employees reminders for their safety and hygiene.
- If you are allowing guests, fix a specific time for when they can come.
- Determining how many times in a day the areas will be cleaned and sanitized.
- Providing equipment at the entrance to those who forget to carry it (e.g., face masks, sanitizers, face shield)
Employee Precautions and Policies to Abide By
Apart from the employer’s initiatives, it is the individual responsibility of the employees to maintain social distancing from other colleagues and wear face masks.
Some of the other precautions that the employees need to keep in mind include:
- Always have a sanitizer or paper soap with you.
- Wear a face mask as soon as you step out of the house.
- Wear a face shield if you are traveling or visiting a crowded place.
- Carry your lunch and water bottle to avoid sharing.
- Have a pair of headphones, a power bank, a phone charger, and other essential items in your bag. When you have what you need, you don’t have to borrow, and the chances of contamination reduce.
- Keep a few sachets of tea and coffee to avoid visits to the pantry.
- Wipe off high-touch areas of your two-wheeler or four-wheeler before every use.
- Continue wearing your face mask throughout and avoid touching your face.
- Do not stop on the way home or office to buy anything unless essential.
- Do not share your vehicle with anyone, especially two-wheelers.
- Avoid the use of lifts. If you need to, use a pen or your elbow to touch the buttons.
- Do not use a crowded lift. If there are three people, wait for the next one.
- If you use the stairs, avoid touching the railing.
As companies plan the return, the crisis-management team, including top executives and key support staff, is spending time discussing the issues of health and safety. Boards should have all the vital information they need to understand and execute the management’s back-to-office strategy. The timing and the way companies resume work can leave lasting implications for the organization and corporate culture. Therefore, it is vital to evaluate the risks. Boards must play an effective role in supervising the management’s plan to return to the workplace.