Going back to the office after COVID-19:
Our operations and HR experts share tips for a safe return
“How to be productive at home” posts are overflowing just about every media outlet’s front page now. But even though the pandemic is far from being over, most companies are planning their office reopening strategy. How do you keep up with the ever-changing work landscape of 2020 and beyond safely?
Despite the fact that remote work has its perks and is here to stay, a CoSo Cloud survey reveals a sad truth within the overwhelmingly positive response—more than half of remote workers feel disconnected from their in-office team members. There is more to this, from a business perspective. According to Statista, in March 2020 coronavirus already affected supply chains and decreased supply availability for about 25 percent of workers and businesses. Two more months have passed, and some companies can’t afford to stay remote any longer.
In this article, we’ll navigate you through the turbulent times of restoring your in-office and on-site processes. Forte experts’ advice included!
1. Put safety first
Your operations won’t succeed without a healthy workforce performing them. Some management teams might be tempted to resume “business as usual” once the restrictions are lifted, but planning for safety compliance across locations is crucial to surviving disruption.
Since the situation may vary from state to state, your safety protocols should also differ in their level of detail. Still, all guidelines agree on four main points that help facility managers handle reopenings and sustain business-essential functions:
- Continuously educate your employees on safety measures and provide them with protective equipment like gloves and masks, if needed
- Introduce social distancing guidelines and provide space for their execution
- Review your in-office communication strategy and develop new no-contact ways to communicate
- Emphasize sanitation in high-touch places like elevators and conference rooms
To raise the ante, consider digitalizing the processes where personal communication is not needed, and change the seating layout in the workspace if that’s what it takes to keep your employees safe. The period when safety precautions interfere with your business processes will pass, but prioritizing workers’ well-being will guarantee you some loyalty points.
2. Take your time to return
Employees will need time to adjust to the post-pandemic world. The same goes for processes. For the first few weeks back in the office, don’t rush towards or expect full productivity. Your safest bet is to operate at lower capacity at first and proceed to expand it as time passes and the situation becomes more controllable.
Evaluating everyone’s roles and determining who are your most mission-critical on-site employees is a good place to start. There are customer-facing roles like sales representatives or roles tied to workstations and tools, and some of them require a physical presence on-site as soon as it is practical to do so. For managers, the job will be to reconsider the advisability of their production quotas and activities like business trips.
Next, separate people flow to avoid crowding. After you’ve analyzed your organization’s remote work productivity, you can painlessly transition to a rotating shift-based schedule. For instance, a popular practice at the moment is to have one team in the workplace on Monday and Tuesday, and a second team in on Thursday and Friday, allowing Wednesday for a deep clean between teams.
It also makes sense to let some employees stay working at home. If you’ve already experienced going fully remote and survived, your business will be able to handle it. With such a systematic analysis of the productivity of your assets, you will be able to outline a viable plan for increasing the headcount in the office gradually while maintaining critical business operations.
3. Be consistent
No matter how all-encompassing your business continuity plan is, there’s no guarantee that the human factor won’t interfere after the worst is over. Some employees may be reluctant to go back to cramped cubicles and office kitchens— for instance, immunocompromised people, or those who have conditions that increase the risk of COVID-19 infection. For others, new caregiving responsibilities may become a part of the equation due to the virus.
Management flexibility is the key (and a must) here. Re-establishing the on-site routine requires a mindset shift, which will increase the workload on your human resources team. As a leader, you need your employees to understand what actions are necessary from them and what actions are optional. Knowing that management cares does wonders for employee engagement and boosts willingness to be a part of the solution.
On a more practical level, you can learn from your remote work. Was there a productivity spike or a drop? Is there anything to add to your post-pandemic best practices, or something to get rid of? Treating crisis as a growth point is a great chance to upgrade your organizational workflow and enhance corporate culture.
Consider adding time-appropriate corporate benefits that will encourage employees to adhere to the safety guidelines. Namely, research discount opportunities like Uber promo codes and other personal transportation means instead of public, or introduce free medical checkups or tests. There are no wrong ways to support your team.
On a final note
Upon returning to the workplace, ensure that you take into account the big picture before putting any plans into action. The future of your corporate culture and long-term implications for your business depend upon on your response. Only by listening to your employees’ concerns and understanding the risks will your leadership and operations teams will be able to effectively execute a safe and effective return strategy.