Return to Office – Bringing the Future into Focus

3 months ago

Return to Office – Bringing the Future into Focus

If you run an office-based business, the plan for getting people back to work, in person, has been a moving target. That has certainly been the case at One Call. Like many of you, we had to reframe our plans – yet again – when Omicron surfaced.

While it’s unlikely we have seen the end of COVID-19, the good news is employers are in a much better place to deal with it than they were a year ago. Vaccines are widely available and schools are not instating long-term shutdowns like those experienced in 2020 and 2021. In fact, recent research by Microsoft reports that 50 percent of companies already require or will require full-time, in-person work this year. So, the question remains – what will returning to the office mean or look like after working remotely the past two years?

At One Call, our human resources and legal teams have been collaborating on flexible plans to bring employees back to the office in some capacity this spring. While every situation and course of action is unique, here are a few things we’ve taken into consideration as we work to reopen our corporate offices:

Start with balance

Take a good look at the work that needs to be done and determine whether employees really need to be in the office. There are many jobs that simply cannot be done as well from home – such as certain IT positions, human resources, and facility managers.

Many workers prefer the convenience, flexibility, and cost savings of working from home; however, employee engagement, creativity, and team bonding can suffer when not face-to-face.

The tough question for employers is how to balance these interests. One possible solution is to incorporate a hybrid model. Hybrid positions allow for the best of both worlds – the flexibility of remote work and much needed face-to-face time with initiatives such as “Work from Work Wednesday.”

Still, some workers think even a day or two a week in the office is too much. A recent Fortune article reports that Apple employees are frustrated by the company’s efforts to roll-out a hybrid plan this spring, and some are threatening to quit if they cannot continue to work remotely. This aligns with a recent Pew Research report that found nearly 60 percent of workers who have jobs that can be done from home want to continue working from home after the pandemic ends. This is up from 54 percent who said the same thing in 2020.

Be clear about COVID-19 protocols

Employers are juggling the need to mitigate risks, keep employees healthy, and respect employees’ rights to make their own medical decisions. When it comes to vaccine and testing policies, employers should stay in lockstep with their legal team to establish and enforce company requirements. It is up to employers to set their own requirements.

Communicate

No employer wants to overwhelm its workforce with information. On the other hand, employees want to be kept in-the-know, especially as it related to company policies. When information is lacking, speculation and rumors take place. Work with your internal communications team to identify the channels, cadence, and format for return-to-work updates. 

Reimagine your office space

Even before COVID-19, the workplace was evolving fast. Offices with doors and walled cubicles were becoming open concept spaces with communal tables. Now that many employees have gotten used to working from home rather than a cubicle, employers are rethinking workspaces to lure employees back to the office. A Fortune article about returning to the office recommends considering new designs, such as moveable walls that promote flexibility and collaboration. 

If many of the positions in your company will become permanently remote, you may be able to move to smaller office space with less overhead. When it comes time for a large gathering, venues like movie theaters and unused retail space are increasingly available for rent.

Make sure your team has the proper tools

For the millions of workers who will continue to work remotely, it’s important they have functional workspace. Employers should consider factors such as internet bandwidth, IT equipment, appropriate surroundings for video calls, and privacy for sensitive conversations. Think through what you can, and should, offer in terms of stipends, IT support visits, office furniture and supplies.

Address mental health and morale

Being physically separated from colleagues for an extended period can lead to employees feeling isolated and lonely. In addition, employees are experiencing stress from working with people they’ve never met in person, as well as the uncertainty about when things will return to “normal.”

HR departments and employee assistance programs should develop plans that help managers identify and address employee mental health concerns.

Moving forward confidently

From the hurried shutdowns of spring 2020 to the arrival of vaccines to the development of variants, the pandemic continues. It seems instead of a tangible end, COVID-19 will become an endemic condition, such as the annual flu.

As that happens, some of us will gradually go back to physical offices. We are not new at this anymore, and this shift does not have to happen in a hurry. We have reimagined how and where work gets done, and we have the resiliency to give employees choice. Whatever path you choose for your company, move forward with confidence, using everything you have learned over the past two years to help guide your decisions.

This article originally appeared on WorkersCompensation.com.

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