Insights & Ideas

Mission to office space: Boldly go where no man has gone in months

Man in suit walking into building

Bringing employees back in the office requires a carefully considered launch plan.

Organizations all over the world are struggling with how and when to bring employees back to the office. Up to two-thirds of Americans aren’t comfortable returning to the workplace.1,2 To many, going back to the office seems like a dangerous mission—and when they get there, they’ll likely feel like they’ve stepped into a new world where all the rules are different.

To get existing employees (and new hires) back on the corporate campus, employers will need to prove that the new normal is going to be a healthy, productive environment. As a result, your launch plan should include:

1. A comprehensive flight plan

As most organizations have realized, bringing employees back to work touches every aspect of the business—from workplace infrastructure and maintenance to employee projects and benefits. Putting all the pieces of the puzzle together in a thorough, transparent, and detailed master plan will help employees feel confident.

2. Top-notch safety procedures

Organizations have an ethical responsibility to keep employees as safe as possible. As a result, organizations need to consider a wide variety of safety measures to make the office safe, including:

  • Reconfiguring desk arrangements, conferences rooms, kitchens, and all other common spaces
  • Taking temperatures when employees arrive
  • Limiting meetings and the number of people in meetings (using virtual meetings even in the office)
  • Offering staggered entry times and lunch breaks
  • Providing personal protection masks and gloves
  • Enforcing quarantines after travel
  • Updating benefits to include more mental health support, wellness programs, new sick leave policies, and more
  • Scheduling four-day work weeks or summer hours

3. Clear communication from mission control

Almost all office interactions and procedures will be affected, from team meetings to using the office fridge. Employers need to make sure employees are clear on new policies and procedures, by providing orientations before the first day back and during the first week.

Orientations need to cover the big questions (e.g., What if I feel sick at work? What if I think another employee is sick?) and the details (e.g., How many people are allowed in the bathroom at once? How do I disinfect the conference room phone?). They also need to cover consequences—what happens when the new rules are broken.

4. Out-of-this-world flexibility options

Even when people come back to the office, the world will be far from normal. Kids might still be home from school. Elderly family members might still need extra help and care. Employees might have health issues they didn’t have before. So, employers should consider:

  • Making the return to the office voluntary or staggered
  • Having groups of employees come on different days or different times of day
  • Allowing more latitude for work/life balance activities of all kind
  • Making work-at-home a permanent option for people who can be productive there

Creating more flexible rules and policies can help employees better balance work productivity and family responsibilities—not to mention lowering the anxiety and stress of coming back to work.

5. Prepared team leaders (a.k.a. managers)

Managers need help getting ready to lead unsteady teams through their first days in the re-envisioned workplace. They need updated guidance, coaching, and training to help them adapt to new policies, team structures, and employee concerns. When managers are prepared, the team functions better and employees feel more positive and empowered.

This mission can boost employee safety and your employer brand simultaneously

Although they may seem obvious, keeping these tips in mind will help you create an environment where everyone feels safe and respected. When that happens, existing employees will feel calm and confident. New hires and consultants will have positive interviewing and onboarding experiences. And, your reputation as a good employer—including positive comments on sites like Glassdoor and LinkedIn—will be a stratospheric success, too.

Want to talk more about this topic? Or, need accounting, finance, or HR help getting your plan in place? Contact me on LinkedIn. I’d be happy to chat.

1. Qualtrics, Is America ready to return to work and get back to business?
2. Gallup, U.S. Workers Discovering Affinity for Remote Work

John Flayter
John Flayter

John Flayter

Managing Director, Chicago Human Resources