Employees back to work after COVID-19

Employees Returning to Work Post-Pandemic? Here’s How to Prepare for a Safe Return

The time has finally come to welcome your employees back to the office.

But how? If this is the first time employees will be returning to in-person work since the pandemic began, it’s normal to have a ton of questions and concerns.

After all, there’s no official handbook on how to safely return to in-person work. And this may be why a reported 39% of organizations still don’t have a finalized plan for how to welcome their returning staff back to work. There are so many factors to consider when re-opening your doors, including whether to wear a mask or not, and if a flexible work arrangement is best for your business and employees.

If you’re struggling with how to reopen your business, consider this post as your unofficial guide. Below, we’ll share insight into how we and other companies have successfully welcomed back employees along with tips on how you can do the same.

Let’s get started.

Start Slowly

When welcoming your employees back to work, remember to start slowly. Don’t expect your employees to start right up where they left off. That first week or even month back can require an adjustment in routine and mindset. It’s best to allow your staff to re-engage at a slower pace.

When welcoming your employees back to work, remember to start slowly. Don’t expect your employees to start right up where they left off. Click To Tweet

Consider re-introducing your team back in smaller batches. For example, welcome back half of your team one week and the other half the next week. Then bring both groups together in the third week. This can be a gentle transition back to work without as many crowds.

Employees back to work after COVID-19

Take Measures to Reduce Social Anxiety

After spending over a year working from home, the idea of coming back to an in-person environment can create anxiety for some of your team members. It’s difficult to make that transition, even for those who’ve craved in-person interactions.

Social anxiety can be defined as the fear of being judged and embarrassed, and the dread of being around unfamiliar people. It can be triggered by small talk, public speaking, feeling like one is the center of attention, and attending social events.

To make it easier for everyone on your team to return, take measures to reduce social anxiety at work. Here are a few ways you can do it:

  • Prepare your team for meetings with an agenda of what you’ll discuss at the meeting.
  • Make after-work social gatherings optional, not mandatory, and don’t pressure those who choose not to attend.
  • Offer different ways of meeting with the team, such as in-person or on video.

Implement Social Distancing Measures

Social distancing is still an important way to limit the spread of the virus. Consider what you can do in your office to limit the spread.

Here are great tips you can try:

  • Re-arrange your office layout. If you have an open office with workstations that are back-to-back, spread them out to allow for 6 feet of space between each.
  • Install plexiglass (acrylic) partitions between desks as an additional layer of safety.
  • Ensure that your office is big enough for all of your employees and your visitors. If not, consider limiting how many employees and visitors are in the office on the same day. For example, have different teams work on certain days.
  • If you have the option, consider creating an outdoor space for your employees. This space can be used for lunch or break time. Be sure that the space has covered areas and plenty of seating.

Do Employee Screening

For companies with 100 employees or more, the federal government requires that employees must either be vaccinated or tested weekly. You’ll need to find out who on your staff is vaccinated and who isn’t. Then, abide by federal mandates and ensure that your unvaccinated employees are tested regularly.

Decide Whether to Mask or Not to Mask

If your state or local district has no regulations, it’s up to you whether you decide to wear masks or not. And with contradictory recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), there’s no clear guidance on whether or not masks are necessary. The decision is an individual business one, or you can leave the decision to your individual employees.

If, however, your state or local district does require people to wear masks in public, the answer is clear. You’ll definitely need to follow those guidelines.

Provide Sanitation Resources

Whether you have a mask mandate or not, it’s still a good idea to offer personal protective equipment (PPE). This includes masks, but also gloves, eye protection, shoe covers, and even protective covers for clothes. Of course, the above list is optional and may not be necessary given your office environment. However, having the option to grab these items (especially masks and gloves) can be reassuring for your team as they transition back to in-person work.

In addition to the above PPE, make the following readily available in your office:

  • Hand sanitizer
  • Cleaning products, including disinfectant wipes and sprays (for sanitizing desks, phones, handles, chairs, arm rests, and other common surfaces)
  • Disinfectant soap
  • Hand dryers and paper towels in the bathroom
  • Facial tissues

Set up multiple hand sanitizer stations around your office. And set up signs that encourage your employees to wash their hands frequently.

Welcome Employee Feedback

Before your employees return to work, send an email that describes what changes you’ve made to the office. And then ask your employees to share their honest feedback about those changes. Remind that many of the changes aren’t set in stone and that you’re open to suggestions. After all, this is something that you’re navigating together.

It’s important for your employees to express not just their excitement but also their concerns about returning to the office. These concerns may include child care or working with unvaccinated employees or being unvaccinated themselves. The more your employees share, the more you can prepare for their transition back to work. Ensure that you follow up with their emails with a call or video chat where you address their concerns.

Since you’re navigating uncharted water, consider offering your employees more flexibility when returning to work. For example, give them a time span of when they can come back to in-person work. Or offer them the option of whether or not to wear masks at their desks.

Little adjustments to your return-to-work plan can have a huge impact on employee morale.

Employees back to work after COVID-19

Lead With Empathy

We’ve all gone through a difficult year and a half, filled with uncertainty, panic, and anxiety. Remember when interacting with your team that some of your employees will have a harder time transitioning back to work than others.

Everyone will need time to adjust to their new normal. Some employees may be dealing with challenges at home, which can include sick loved ones, school quarantines that affect their children, and just coping in general with all of the changes we’ve experienced since the pandemic started.

Lead with empathy. In every conversation and interaction with your team members, assume positive intent. If they call in sick, instead of being suspicious or annoyed about how their absence may affect you, be gracious. And if they express frustration for the mask mandate or any other requirement that you may have, be open to dialogue about it. And understand that life these days is challenging. You can get through this together as long as you maintain respect and assume positive intent.

Learn more about how to assume positive intent here.

Prioritize Time Off

Your employees shouldn’t have to beg for time off. In fact, time off should be mandatory, especially after the year and a half that we’ve just experienced. Organizations like Nike, LinkedIn, and HootSuite have all made mental health a priority by giving their employees an extended break just to decompress.

As you plan for your employees to return to in-person work, consider implementing a mental break vacation for your entire team. (You can stagger time off so that work is covered.) This way, everyone can enjoy the benefits of the break. Or if you don’t want to do an entire week off, you can assign one day each month as a mental health break. This small change can alleviate burnout and ensure that your employees get a chance to refresh regularly.

Final Thoughts

As we adjust to our post-pandemic world, it can be difficult to know how to effectively reopen your business. However, you can ensure an easy transition if you follow the above tips.

Check out this podcast to learn how we got back to work.

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