With over 50% of the US population now vaccinated against COVID-19 and cases on the decline, the #returntotheoffice is starting to begin. Some workplaces have already welcomed staff back to the office, while others are wondering how they can attract staff back after they’ve been remote for so long.
Returning to the office is strange, like revisiting a childhood home to see the new owners have renovated it. Familiar… but completely different. After having not seen your coworkers in 12+ months, can you hug them? Are there new rules?
If you’re a HR manager tasked with managing the return to the office, here are some important things to consider.
For those missing the social interaction, there is the temptation to come straight back to the office. But the risk isn’t gone just yet. Be creative and flexible with your approach to what working in the office looks like for your organization. We’re seeing HR teams considering various modes of return, including staggered returns, team-based schedules, office for collaboration-only and other hybrid approaches. Better yet, run a quick survey or pulse check to ask your employees what their preferences are.
It’s important to be aware that some staff may not feel safe coming back to the office, or it may be too risky for them if they or close family members are immunocompromised.
Adopting new sanitation and hygiene practices will be essential to not just keep the workplace clean, but to help make staff feel comfortable and safe to return. Here are some tips to keep the office sanitized and safe:
It is recommended that social distancing still applies, so while your employees may want to hug each other, it’s important to stick to waves and elbow bumps!
It can be easy to forget to maintain a physical distance in the office and workspaces. Set up the physical environment to prevent overcrowding and safeguard your people and use signage (our next point!) as reminders to do so.
You will need clear, simple and ample signage to support your new hygiene and distancing practices. Consider signs for:
The days where you would shudder every time your sick co-worker coughed or blew their nose are gone. Employees showing any signs of sickness must stay home and if they still are able to/want to work, then they must do so remotely. Be sure to update your leave policy with these new rules and any other changes for COVID-related time off or quarantine, and get staff to sign with their acceptance and understanding of the new rules.
“Collaboration happens either when everyone is in the same room, or no one is.” Rob Bromage, intelliHR CEO
There’s no doubt that remote collaboration introduced lots of challenges – tech issues, two people speaking at once (then no one at all), the classic “you’re on mute” and sometimes just a general lack of energy. A major plus of heading back to the office will be the spontaneity, energy and free flow of ideas that happen when collaborating in person. But if you’re adopting a hybrid model of work, a little bit of extra effort and planning might be required.
Provisions should always be made for those who cannot be there in person so that no one is disadvantaged. One good practice is to have everyone dial in to a video meeting on their own devices so the experience is the same for those at home as in the office (there’s nothing worse than watching a room of tiny people on a webcam who have clearly forgotten you exist talk amongst themselves).
If possible, have people who work closely together come in on the same days so that they can collaborate in person. This is also highly beneficial for building and strengthening team bonds that may have become a little ‘stretched’ while apart.
You might want to track who’s in the office and when, in case of any issues or need for contact tracing. At intelliHR, we’ve created a dedicated Slack channel where our staff simply post ‘WFO’ (working from office) on the days that they’re in. In each team channel, team members check in each day to let each other know where they’re working from.
Another consideration is how you manage external visitors. While you can keep your people safe with your policies and office returns, you can’t ensure visitors will follow the same rules and understand your precautions. Where possible, continue to hold external meetings online and if you do need to have visitors to the office, ensure they check-in via QR code or other, so you have a record of it.
To support the changes you make to your office and ways of working, old policies may need to be updated or new ones created. intelliHR’s compliance tools let you easily create, update and send policies and documents to staff for sign-off, sending automated reminders if they haven’t been actioned, keeping track of and giving HR visibility over who is compliant.
Regardless of the planning, structures and policies you put in place, the transition back to the office might be a bumpy ride, and could be a case of testing, asking for feedback and learning.
Throughout this time, use regular communications and check-ins to see how your staff are managing. You can do this easily with intelliHR’s employee feedback tools and you can even automate and schedule requests so you don’t forget to check-in. Analytics help you track wellness, satisfaction and a range of other metrics and provides HR visibility over culture and who might need support.
Law firm Lander & Rogers have used intelli’s wellbeing tools throughout the pandemic, to transition back to the office, and when they were plunged into lockdown yet again. Read their story here.
“Through intelliHR’s inbuilt automation and analytics, we’re able to quickly ascertain the ongoing mental health and wellbeing of our staff. Particularly relevant now more than ever, we’ve been able to use intelli to identify who in our team may need additional support, and act accordingly. In this era of remote work it’s critical that we can maintain a view of how our people are faring, especially during times of uncertainty.”
Catherine Whitehead, Chief People Officer.
These are just a few of the considerations to make in returning to the office. If you’re adopting a hybrid model of work to start off with or more permanently, then you will need a different set of skills, processes and mindset to empower staff to work optimally, drive collaboration and foster new paths to performance, and we’ve developed a bunch of resources to help! Grab our free Toolkit for managing hybrid teams here.
intelliHR is a people management platform helping HR, leaders and managers enhance performance, culture, engagement and retention. With built-in HRIS and powerful real-time analytics, see how the platform works today.