Leadership

4 Business Leaders Share Their Strategies for Returning to the Office

return to office

As COVID-19 restrictions continue to scale back in response to increased vaccinations across the U.S., more companies are starting to transition their remote workers and are returning to the office — at least to some capacity. An estimated 61 percent of employers aim to reinstate at least half of their team onsite by the third quarter of 2021, according to a survey from the HR consultant firm Mercer.  

The Mercer report also indicates 87 percent of business leaders will handle this process with flexibility to consider everyone’s well-being. For most businesses, this means instituting a hybrid work model. 

Additionally, with new recommendations by the CDC and workers reporting anxiety about returning to the office, health and safety are of the foremost importance as employees return to the office. A recent survey from the commercial cleaning experts at SERVPRO found that 83 percent of organizations are investing more time and money now into disinfecting and sanitizing the office. In fact, 63 percent make sure the space is cleaned several times daily, and 34 percent hire both janitorial workers and a CDC-approved cleaning service to maximize precautions.

But as essential as they are, flexibility and safety measures aren’t enough to ensure a smooth transition to the office. Here four business leaders share their approaches for maneuvering their return to the office to ensure it’s as successful as possible.

Map Out a Comprehensive Plan

Focused as leaders are on health and safety, it’s easy to overlook all the other planning and new policy development the post-pandemic workplace requires. Miranda Yan, Co-Founder of VinPit, explains:

 “An excellent ‘Return to Office Plan’ should take into account health and safety measures, response to workforce discrimination, productivity and responsibility, information accessibility, employee and management expectations, burnout, and other mental health issues. 

“Providing health benefits was one of the practical measures we found to be effective. Since most employees are frightened of the virus’s spread, money should be spent on providing health insurance and paid time off. To assist employees in recovering from remote work stress, establishing COVID security protocols and wellness programs are also effective.”

Aim Not Just for Safety But for Comfort

While companies are emphasizing the safety and cleanliness of the workplace in these times — and rightfully so — Sep Niakan, Founder and Managing Broker of Condo Blackbook, reminds us not to forget about comfort:

“Assess your current office arrangement for ideas on how to make it more secure—and appealing. We have grown accustomed to unattractive plexiglass screens that, while reducing our exposure to the virus, serve as uncomfortable reminders of this pandemic. So to create more natural distances and barriers, spread apart workstations and utilize potted plants or attractive screens. Also, instead of meetings in cramped conference rooms, consider holding them in more open areas, or even outside.

“If you have customers or clients who come into the business space, establish a meeting room separate from the employee workstations. This visitor area should ideally have its own restroom and entrance. When privacy is required, designate conference rooms or unoccupied offices as meeting places, rather than allowing these clients into employee offices. For even further protection, install freestanding UV electronic air purifiers in these rooms. Demonstrate to your staff that you are working to assure both their safety and comfort, then be sure to solicit their feedback throughout the process.”

Refine Your Company Culture for the Post-Pandemic Workplace

The foundation of any successful business is its company culture, which describes not only who they are but why they do what they do. According to Eden Cheng, Co-Founder of PeopleFinderFree, the challenge in the new post-pandemic workplace is to not only reinforce this culture but also to build upon it in the new hybrid work model. Cheng says the emphasis should be on inclusion and positivity in these times:

“This means prioritizing casual weekly team catch-ups through video conference calls. The idea is to have fun and share success by making sure there is a positive and motivational atmosphere around the team.

“Having most of your workforce no longer based in the office means that that inclusion takes priority. Just because you don’t see someone physically that often, doesn’t mean they are not an essential part of your team, right? So you need to maintain the right open channels of communication that allow employees to voice concerns or provide constructive feedback. The key is to make sure that no team members feel left out, and each person knows they have an important role to sustain the company’s culture moving forward.”

Listen to Employees And Show That You’ve Heard Them

Inviting employees to share their concerns and make suggestions makes them feel heard, and it can also generate some helpful ideas for business leaders who may be looking for creative solutions in these unprecedented times. Harriet Chan, Co-Founder and Marketing Director of CocoFinder, explains how her company’s leaders are tuning into what their employees have to say:

“We’re making sure that employees feel they can raise issues or concerns, which will be taken seriously. Those who prefer not to return to the office right now — myself included — are under no pressure whatsoever to. All of our meetings take place on Zoom, regardless of how many attendees are in the physical office, and we repeatedly assure our team there is no judgment about not wanting to come back onsite. We understand that some might prefer to work from home as much as possible from now on. 

“Our management team has also strategized on how to practice the best safety precautions, and we allocated a budget for items such as gloves, sanitizers, masks, and oxygen meters. We then explained this to all our employees and took suggestions from them as well. Now we are ready to start back again, and everyone is more than willing to join in.”

If you’re in the process of transitioning employees back onsite, or if you plan to start in the near future, it’s crucial to have your own return plan in place. While a flexible work model and safety are certainly vital, consider what other strategies would be best for your company, so you can do whatever it takes to make your team feel comfortable and stay engaged during these challenging times.

About the Author

Jesse Relkin is the founder and CEO of C-POP Content Marketing. She has been a freelance writer and marketing professional for more than a decade. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.