With ongoing uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, no one knows exactly what returning to the office will look like. Some companies will opt to remain fully remote, whilst others will return their entire staff to the workplace. The vast majority of organisations however, will fall somewhere in between.
With many companies having already begun a phased return to work, it’s prudent to begin preparing for the return of employees to the physical workplace. No one solution will work for every company, but a reintroduction to the office that isn’t phased and well thought-out can be risky and dangerous. The following are a few recommendations and considerations for how to safely implement a phased return-to-office plan after Covid-19.
The Benefits Of A Phased Return-To-Office
A phased return to the workplace puts employees at ease by reducing the risk of the worst case scenario: a contagious employee returning to the office and spreading the virus to others. There is also an improvement in the overall wellbeing of employees subsequent to being allowed the time to gradually settle back into office life. A phased return also reduces the burden already levied upon facilities teams who are working overtime to keep up to speed with Covid deep cleaning schedules. Essentially, a phased return is mutually beneficial for both the employee and the employer, in everyone feeling safe, prepared and motivated to return.
Implementing A Phased Return-To-Office
Before implementing a phased return plan, you need to determine:
- Is it essential?
- Is it sufficiently safe?
- Is it mutually agreed with other leaders and employees?
The first point should echo your current government guidelines and the second refers to the safety of the office space. The third point is less explicit but just as important: if an employee doesn’t agree that the workplace has been made sufficiently safe, they may refuse to return to the workplace. In this situation, you may have to consider negotiating with the employee and potentially to agreeing an extended work from home period.
Once each of these factors have been considered, you can begin implementing the following actions for a safe and sufficient phased return-to-office plan.
Schedule Staggering Shifts:
Employers can use a staggered shift schedule to reduce the number of people in the workplace at one time to abide by social distancing regulations. Consider starting with 25% of the workforce returning to in-office during the first phase. You may want to offer this on a voluntary basis first to see how many employees want to move from working from home. If this goes as planned, increase to 50% of employees coming into the office a few weeks later, and so on. As well as reducing contact and risk, applying a staggered schedule strategy means companies can identify how many people are in different areas of an office, meaning essential cleaning teams can be directed to targeted areas based on who has been where.
Prepare The Office:
An effective and safe phased return-to-work plan must include preparing the office space by developing clear policies and standards for employees to abide by. First, employers should limit shared workspaces by socially distancing desk spaces and finding alternatives if employees typically share equipment. As well as this, spaces where employees habitually congregate, such as common rooms and kitchens, should be reduced to the use of a limited number of people at one time.
Encourage regular hand washing by posting signs, provide hand sanitiser and tissues, and discourage hand shaking, high fives, and other forms of contact to promote hygiene and prevent a potential outbreak. As well as boosting hygiene, take extra care to keep high-touch surfaces clean, such as door handles, workspaces, elevators, and bathrooms; you may need to think about employing extra cleaning staff to meet this increased demand.
Get Employee Feedback:
Don’t overlook the human factor when planning your phased return. Employees have spent months working from home without physically interacting with friends, family, or their fellow colleagues, making the return to the office an extremely overwhelming situation for some.
To move forward with your phased return, ask employees for feedback at every stage of the return and question what is working well and what areas may need improving. As noted earlier, many employers may be faced with a furloughed or work-from-home employee who refuses to return. In this circumstance, look for compromises and be proactive in levelling with the employee to determine their specific concerns. Then, you can work with them to find alternative solutions.
Different employees will need different things. By looking at the vulnerabilities of each individual, you’ll better understand your employees’ unique situations, and offer more personalised and equitable support.
Have A Contingency Plan:
With ongoing uncertainty, you need to be flexible and prepared. Create a contingency plan in case there’s an outbreak of the virus in the office which allows you to act quickly and aggressively to prevent a mass spread. This may include having everyone take their work equipment home each evening, or automating your office systems to go fully remote in the instance of an immediate office closure.
Our Client Management team can provide advice on return-to-work policies and how best to implement a phased return plan. Get in touch with your consultant and ask how we can help, or reach out to us here. If you are looking to scale, our team of Storm2 consultants have an extensive network of highly specialised, hard to reach FinTech talent who will be able to guide you through your expansion plans. Alternatively, you can check out our specialisms for more information on the roles we work with.