Over a dozen states or more are planning to lift or ease their shelter-in-place directives and re-open the economy. That means the concept of return to the office (referred to as RTO) with the right safety protocols and a “new norm” strategy in place has become top of mind for C-level executives and business owners.
Companies are planning, adapting, and innovating to ensure their employees return to a positive and productive environment with a focus on total well-being. No doubt, we’ll all be taking the obvious steps in the physical aspects of the new office norm, for example:
- Distancing protocol
- Workstation reconfiguration
- Visually enhanced cleansing (employees see cleaning crews during the day)
- Employee commitment to disinfecting and other company procedures
- Reduce or pause shared workspaces/hoteling / hot-desking
- Increased digital imaging
- Common-space rules of engagement (reception, collaboration, conference areas)
- Reception areas – formalize visitor protocols and access, Plexiglas screens, and rearrange seating areas; remove magazines, swag, and pens, and keep hand sanitizer in plain view
Now is the time to focus on the “not so obvious” steps that will positively impact your RTO strategy during this highly-sensitive time.
Conduct some internal research to get valuable feedback from your employees who have transitioned to working from home. Questionnaires could be in the form of a blind survey, virtual focus groups, or random interviews. Gather this information now while employees are at home, so the feedback is current and valid. The results may impact how you re-phase your employee population into the workplace.
Phase-In of Office Workforce
Bringing the workforce back in phases will be an interesting dynamic. Companies with locations in various cities, states, and countries – each having its own regulations – will need to be especially aware. Collaboration with senior management, human resources, and legal/ compliance departments is critical to the success of your RTO transition plan.
RTO Workforce phase-in plans run the gamut to maximize productivity while ensuring employee confidence and will vary by organization.
- Return in waves prioritized by business demands, operational requirements, and other key critical personnel first.
- Offer alternating days where people sharing close spaces or shared offices can have a schedule for both working from home, the office, or a combination of both. Create a public shared calendar, so everyone is clear on who is “where and when.”
- Determine the extent of remote work opportunities based on personal preference combined with loosened workplace standards. For example, if a manager or staff member’s office is empty due to their ability to work from home, then another staff member can occupy that space safely and maintain social distancing.
- Phase in risk categories also includes health/age status. Bringing on the low-risk employee population first and phasing in potential “at-risk” employees later in the phase is worth the effort. Will you do temperature testing, and how often? Monitor who has access to certain floors, areas, etc.
- Some companies may request a voluntary (or required) work health declaration stating that upon return to work they have no known symptoms or have not been exposed to the virus. HR/Compliance Departments will need to determine by the state on this.
A dedicated team of RTO “champions”
Last but not least, assign a dedicated team of RTO “champions” who will assist in re-engaging the workforce upon their return to the office. This can include a tour of the new office environment and an explanation of the rules of engagement. Regardless of employee tenure, title, or position, they are all coming back to a new environment. Schedule a mandatory calendar invite (or sign-up) so everyone participates….no exceptions. Some key areas to point out during the new tour:
- Foodservice spaces; reduced vendor access; and pre-packed items only
- The office coffee maker, water dispenser, etc. might need to be temporarily suspended or revised.
- Ensure all employees are committed to cleaning their desk phones and mobile phones.
In summary, when the shelter-in-place directive is lifted or eased, there will be a huge surge in moving activity in both the private sector and corporate relocation. Furthermore, it will be happening in the middle of the traditionally busy summer season. Be prepared now to have your moving partner in place and ready for the new norm. If you are planning to relocate, arrange to have a virtual survey conducted, and secure your dates now.
As we return to the office, remember to not let your guard down. Exercise wisdom and caution during this season of quarantine and follow the protocol to prevent spreading or a second wave. Our freedom is returning…let’s use it wisely!
Be well and stay safe.