In 2020, many companies were searching for ways to transition their workforce from office-based work to home-based work as they sought to protect everyone from exposure to the COVID-19 virus. Now that several vaccines are in use and the numbers for the spread of the virus are trending down, many companies are looking to bring their workers back. Yet the shift from home-based work to office-based work can be just as jarring as the shift from office to home. Human resources professionals should take measures to safely transition their people back to the office as the pandemic restrictions ease. Here are some tips to create a strategy that makes the transition easier.
1. Keep Safety in Mind
Even though COVID-19 has been around for over a year, it is important to remember that we are still in the midst of a global pandemic. This means there is still a risk for your employees when they come to your office. As you build your strategy to bring people back to the office, make sure you have safety protocols in place. For example, strictly enforce a mask-wearing policy. Keep plenty of tissues and antibacterial soaps around.
Your organization will have to determine what safety protocols work best for your needs but making safety a priority can help your team members feel more comfortable with the transition back to the office.
2. Give Plenty of Notice
Your employees have had a year to work from home and have likely gotten into some routines. They are going to need time to mentally prepare for the transition back to the office. As soon as you have your strategy planned, make sure your HR team is communicating well with your employees. Giving them some time to prepare for the transition will make it easier, and also provide the time to arrange for childcare, plan their commute, and be ready mentally to return to the office.
This transition is a time when you cannot over-communicate. Make sure you give all the information possible to your team, so they are ready for the transition. While the transition to remote work may have happened suddenly when the pandemic hit, the transition to normal work does not have to be, so give your team time to process the change.
3. Understand the Challenges
For leadership to make a transition like this easier, they need to understand the challenges employees are facing. For example, working from home sometimes eliminates the need for childcare. Older children can be home with their parents doing their schoolwork or taking care of other responsibilities while parents work remotely, but they may not be old enough to stay home when the parent is not home. Thus, parents may need to locate child care before they can come back to the office.
Similarly, your employees may not have a full work-week wardrobe on hand. They may need time to do a little shopping to get work-ready clothing before coming back to the office. Other challenges include:
- Planning for a daily commute and traffic
- Packing meals for the office
- Learning to work with office chatter instead of silence (or a radio cranked to the max)
Understanding these challenges will help you make your workplace somewhere that people will feel comfortable returning to.
4. Add Some Home-Like Perks
The transition to working in the office could be harder for some employees because they are used to the comforts of home close at hand. For example, one challenge to going back to the office for one worker was the fact that her coffee pot wasn't just around the corner. Easing the transition could mean providing a sanitary option for office coffee or allowing employees to bring their coffee pots from home.
While the modern workplace cannot replicate home in the office completely, consider adding some home-like perks. Encourage employees to make their space as comfortable as possible, as well. For example, some employees may find that the office temperature is too cool for comfort, so encourage them to bring a space heater or blanket to use in the office.
5. Encourage the Remote Skills
Working remotely requires your team to learn a new skill set. Improved communication was a perk that came from the remote work environment, for example. When moving back to the office, encourage your team members to keep those skills as much as possible. For example, your team members had to learn to send regular emails and texts to stay abreast of what was happening around the office, since they could not touch base at the water cooler or lunchroom. This is a valuable skill to keep in place. Encourage this type of communication moving forward, as it will help your office to run smoothly.
6. Consider Hybrid Options or a Phased Approach to Transitioning
Schools managed the pandemic by offering hybrid learning. You may want to consider the same thing for your office. A hybrid option allows people to have some work-from-home days and some office-based days. This can ease the transition a bit by giving the comfort and flexibility of at-home days a few days per week. It can also allow those employees who feel uncomfortable working at the office the option to remain home a bit longer.
Another idea is to use a phased approach to transitioning back to work. Some of your team members are probably champing at the bit to get back to the office. Bring these people back first. Others who have had COVID or who have gotten a vaccine may feel safe returning. Give them the option to come back first. With these initial in-person employees, you can test out your safety protocols and policies to make sure they are working well for everyone, and then make changes before everyone comes back together. This also allows you to allow at-risk employees to continue working remotely as long as possible to add further protection.
7. Communicate Their Responsibilities
The transition back to work will require something from your team. Decide what you will want them to do and communicate that. For example, the level of PPE you want your team to wear to protect themselves and your clients needs to be clearly communicated. Similarly, if your new cleaning protocols will require your employees to handle some of the cleaning tasks, such as wiping down their desks or common areas after use, then let them know what you will want them to do. Make sure those in leadership are modeling these rules themselves so employees can easily follow their example.
8. Keep Lines of Communication Open
Keep your employees talking. Find out what is working or what is not working as you make this transition. Be open to suggestions and criticism, when it comes. Remember, this transition is hard for everyone, so talk to your people to see what you need to do to make it just a little easier. If something isn't working, be willing to re-visit the policy and make a change, so it will work better for all involved. Remember, the pandemic isn't going to disappear overnight, so the more successful you and your team can be with this transition, the better your future success as an organization will be.
Considering a Career in HR? Start with the Right Training
Human resources professionals are facing unique times as the world figures out how to continue doing business in light of the pandemic. This is a unique and interesting time to join the world of HR. If you are considering it as your career, an online degree in human resources could be the right starting point. JWU Online offers a BSBA in Human Resource Management as well as master's degree programs in HR which can be fully completed online. Earn your BSBA - Human Resource Management or your master’s degree in human resource management from JWU. For more information, complete the Request Info form, call 855-JWU-1881, or email [email protected].