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Returning to the Office: Transitioning to the “New Normal”

returning to the office

Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath will be one of the greatest business challenges of our time. Management teams bear the primary responsibility to guide their teams through the disruption, and it will be up to them to determine how and when to begin the task of returning to the workplace. 

There is much to consider when deciding if and how your team will return to the office (regulations, location, timing, etc.) But while all organizations have their own set of unique challenges, one thing is certain: the U.S. workforce is quickly transitioning into a “new normal” where remote working will play a larger role. 

While not for everyone, during this transition time many employers are choosing to adopt a “hybrid” model of office work, with some employees in the office and others working remotely. Below are some best practices that might work for your team’s situation: 

Health and Safety Come First 

This should be management’s top priority when considering how to bring operations back to a semblance of normal. Your team is counting on upper management to get them back to work safely by complying with federal, state, and local orders as restrictions are eased: 

•   Educate employees on when they should not come into the office and establish rules that govern when employees can return after recovering from an illness. 
•   Establish guidelines for the use of personal protective equipment. 
•   New protocols for deep cleaning and sanitization may be needed. 
•   Consider making changes to the layout of your team’s workspace, to maintain 6 ft of social distancing.  

Who’s Returning to the Office? 

There are a few approaches you can take, depending on the needs of your organization. Which ever way you decide to return, using a “hybrid” approach will allow employees to return to the office in phases. The decision on who comes in and when should be driven by both business and personal needs. 

•   Approach #1: Only bring back the staff you need, leave the remaining working remote. It’s likely here you’ll start with the most essential teams (I.e. Operations) and gradually invite the remaining. 
•   Approach #2: Devise a schedule with differing team “shifts,” where only a percentage of your workforce comes in at one time. This works for an organization that wants to give everyone the option to come into the office sooner. 

Communication Remains Key 

The strong levels of communication you’ve developed during the full “work-from-home” period should be maintained – especially with some employees still working remotely. In addition, every employee is at a different personal risk level. Keep communication lines open for employees on their personal preferences. Last, don’t announce new guidelines and expect them to be immediately followed. Have a set schedule where you are continuously talking about safety, protocols, and the changing needs of your environment. 

The Silver Lining 

At this point–the idea of a fully flexible working practice, where employees choose where they want to work, becoming “the new normal” is not so far-fetched. While this is likely a big change for most people, it comes with the benefit of allowing for greater geographic diversity in hiring and access to a whole new pipeline of candidates. In addition, the “hybrid” approach will likely help efficiency and your bottom line. 

Every organization will have to do what’s right for their situation, the key is to embrace it and be optimistic about the future.