Office Re-Entry: Your Return to Work Playbook

Who’s ready for a triumphant return to the office? I know I am!

While remote and flexible work options are here to stay, a growing number of businesses are working hard to formulate plans to bring employees back to the office safely. 

Now that we are a year into shutdowns, pandemic fatigue has people ready to revolt, and global vaccinations are underway, the return to workplace conversations are getting more frequent. 

Some of these conversations might sound familiar:

  • People are over Zoom meetings.
  • Company culture is suffering.
  • Mental health issues are skyrocketing.
  • Unused space is costing money regardless of people being in or out of it. 
  • Insurance claims are rising due to poor ergonomic conditions.

During my talks with business owners, human resources, facility professionals, and property managers, there is one question that consistently pops up in some form: 

“How can we prepare our space to function effectively and safely?”

It’s a great question! The good news is that it’s possible and achievable for any company that wants to make it happen. Below are three excellent places to begin your return to office journey.

Document Your Plans and Protocols

Improvisation is great for some things, but not necessarily business continuity. It’s essential to have a clear, well-documented plan of immediate actions you’re taking to get employees back to the office and your emergency preparedness for a future crisis. 

We’ve learned a lot from this pandemic, but one of the biggest lessons is how wholly unprepared we were for a global shutdown of this magnitude. Many companies have made the best of the situation, but the entire shift from office into remote working could have been made seamless with the proper plan in place before needing it. We can use the same planning logic for successful re-entry!

The best part of this particular tip is it’s a two-for-one. You will not only prepare your team for a safe return to the office, but you’ll also be ready in case of a future emergency.

Here are three specific plans for your re-entry team to formulate:

Emergency Preparedness Plan  This plan details your policies and protocols in the event of specific emergencies such as:

  • Natural (flood, tornado, hurricane, heatwave) 
  • Fire
  • Health (acute medical emergency, infectious disease)
  • Technological (power loss, chemical spills, explosion)
  • Human-caused (civil unrest, active shooter, terrorism)

Business Continuity Plan Think of this as the who, what, when, where and how your business will operate in the event of a disruption. At a minimum, it should:

  • List critical business functions, processes and resource dependencies.
  • Perform an impact analysis considering the likely effects resulting from disruption of normal business functioning due to a catastrophe and prioritizing critical business functions for recovery.
  • Outline a remote work readiness action plan (technology, remote infrastructure, designated employees/positions to work remotely, communication methods, etc.).

Re-Entry Plan Getting your team deployed out is one piece of the puzzle. It’s just as critical to be ready to recall your people back to the office. Some considerations to keep in mind:

  • Policies to support a phased re-entry (part-time options, work from home flexibility, flexible schedules)
  • Contingency planning and re-closure measures if the same hazard that forced initial closure recurs
  • Security precautions such as social distancing, temperature screening, PPE requirements and sanitization protocols

Prepare Your Physical Environment

After you’ve developed your various plans above, you’ll need to go a step further in readying your physical space. 

The most important part of this step is the first: Talk with your employees. Listen to their concerns, what they like and don’t like, and what they need to feel comfortable coming back to the office because if they aren’t, you might be in for a bigger headache! 

While the items below are not an exhaustive list of things to do, they are a solid step in the right direction:

  • Talk to your employees to understand their needs and concerns about returning to the office.
  • Review and adjust (as needed) workplace wellness and employee support policies and amenities to support safe and healthy re-entry, customized to address any of the needs and concerns you learned through talking with your people.
  • Communicate your new protocols and policies through multiple channels (emails, corporate intranet, signage and other visual cues).
  • Provide a re-entry orientation to review your efforts with staff.
  • Establish, document and communicate thorough cleaning practices that include details such as:
    • Frequency and extent of cleaning
    • List of the responsible cleaning staff or third-party agencies
    • List of high-touch surfaces that require disinfection
    • Frequency thresholds for disinfection (number of hours, users per space)
    • Process for documenting compliance with cleaning protocols
    • A system to log feedback from occupants and cleaning staff

Lead with Transparency and Empathy

Most employees are looking for the same thing: clear communication, appreciation, value for their work and feeling safe and comfortable within their work environment. 

The key to a successful re-entry in these crazy times is to be open to listening, empathetic to how your people feel, and transparent in your efforts to create an environment that genuinely supports everyone’s overall health and wellbeing. 

If you want more tips and resources like these, learn more about the science-backed, third-party verified WELL Health Safety Rating.

Unfortunately, it took a global pandemic to get us here, but I believe positive changes are rippling through the workplace. You simply need to be open to embracing them.

Source: WELL Health Safety Rating

Courtnay Bradley, WELL AP, is founder and chief purpose officer at Trilogie and host of The Up/Down Podcast and Trilogie’s Table Talk live stream series. Her passion for people fuels her obsession with helping companies design and furnish work environments that truly inspire and engage employees. In 2009 she started Trilogie with the sole purpose of creating kick-ass workspaces that help organizations thrive.