Return to the Office After COVID-19

With COVID-19, many companies have been grappling with economic and workplace challenges for months and are now preparing to transition from completely work from home policies to hybrid or fully in the office work. However, many companies in states that are now opening up are finding that bringing employees back into offices poses a serious set of challenges that require a combination of HR, managerial, and employee cooperation to avoid serious risks and provide an experience that is as smooth as possible. In this post we take a brief look at some of the challenges companies are facing and the policies and procedures they need to be considering as they get back to work. For more details and to receive an in-depth guide to addressing these challenges, be sure to watch or listen to our recent webinar.

Concerns to Address as Part of Your Roadmap

Unfortunately, bringing remote employees back to the office isn't as simple as setting a return date for everyone and hoping for the best. Companies need to be aware of several key areas, each with their own unique challenges, that need to be addressed prior to bringing any employees back into the office safely. Based on our work with companies bringing employees back to offices, here are the key concerns:

Leadership

Who will be managing both the messaging and implementation of programs to return employees to the office? Once they begin to transition back, who will employees turn to when they have questions or concerns?

Flexibility

Employees have different levels of risk for contracting and recovering from COVID-19 as well as different preferences and at-home situations that make blanket policies difficult or impossible to implement. Employers need to consider which transition modes they want to support as well as how they want to handle returns for different classes of employees.

Logistics

How will employees return to the office – staggered, all at once, in phases? When they do return, how will in-office concerns like social distancing and disinfection be handled? Which "normal" services, like cafeterias and break rooms will be available?

Regulations

Navigating regulations from various government and city entities is itself a large challenge given that different states and even municipalities have issued their own guidance on handling COVID-19. In addition to that, there may be guidelines or requirements from employer headquarters or parent companies on bringing employees back to offices.

Testing

Given the COVID-19 infections will continue to be an issue for the foreseeable future, employers need to consider how they will handle testing and tracing in the event that employees who have returned get sick.

Legal Risk

Finally, employers need to be aware of the legal risks that come with bringing employees back to the office amidst the current pandemic and have plans in place for minimizing legal risk to the organization.

Employers planning their returns from remote work now should look at each of these categories in detail and form solid plans for dealing with each one individually. In many cases a poorly thought out return strategy will result in an overall worse situation for companies than if they had continued as-is work from home policies. In the following sections we will dive into each of these categories in detail to provide some additional context about the concerns for each and ways in which businesses beginning their transitions are handling these today.

Additional Considerations for Companies

Given the length of the lockdown and the growing comfort with working from home for at least a portion of employees, many businesses should at least be considering implementing stronger long-term work from home policies. We have seen a growing list of businesses run the numbers and determine that shrinking physical office space in favor of permanent work from home or hybrid models not only makes many employees happier, but also saves significant money.

Additionally, we strongly recommend that employers make long-term remote work tools and technology part of their ongoing workforce strategy if they have not already done so. This includes policies for setting employees up with computers and monitors to work from home as well as working with IT departments to ensure remote access to needed files and software is easy and effective. Given how cheap remote tools are in comparison to efficiency losses at a normal employee’s salary, there is really no reason not to "splurge" on high-quality tools for those who need them. And as we cover in our hiring for culture fit remotely blog post, staffing up a remote team doesn't have to be difficult.

Finally, we also recommend that employers start looking into the possibility of shrinking their main offices in favor of multiple smaller satellite offices that employees can optionally use when they want to. This provides multiple benefits:

  • Reduces risk of widespread infection from COVID-19 or potential future pandemics
  • Reduces cost in comparison to a large, underutilized office in the future as more employees switch to semi or fully remote work
  • Makes it much easier to scale office space in response to changing conditions
  • Often provides employees with a more convenient office location with a shorter commute and tighter local team

MercuryHub™ is a one stop shop to help businesses mitigate business risks and improve operation efficiencies. Contact our team today at start@mercuryhub.net.

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