Never in living memory have offices been emptied out due to a pandemic. Which also makes it the first time that organizations have had to think about how to bring employees back to the office.
Plan with the bigger picture in mind
As you work with other stakeholders to plan your organization’s re-entry, here are some factors worth considering:
- Re-entry may not be a one-time thing. Bouts of re-infection in specific communities, metro areas or states could cause authorities to issue new “stay at home” or “shelter in place” orders. Likewise, outbreaks within specific facilities could cause buildings to be temporarily closed. In other words, don’t assume that re-entry will follow a linear path. It’s entirely possible that some companies will have more than one re-entry to manage.
- Re-entry will be distributed unevenly. At some point, you will choose which teams need to return to HQ and which teams can work off-site or from home. But not everyone who is invited back will want or be able to return, which means teams could be split between HQ and WFH. So, for many, distributed work will likely remain the norm, with some employees switching between all three work modalities – home, HQ and on-demand offices – in order to balance life and work demands.
- Employee opinion could continue to evolve. Depending on how the pandemic plays out in different regions and cities, employees may feel one way about returning to the office now and feel quite differently later, especially if they have a personal encounter with the virus.
- The talent marketplace will remain a factor. As we learn more about how different companies handle their own re-entry and the extent to which employers embrace remote work – new norms will be established. Companies that have to compete for talent are already leading the way in mobility and workplace flexibility. In doing so, they are setting a higher bar in the talent marketplace.
Lead with your principles
Regardless of your plan specifics, there are some values and principles that arguably should guide your efforts. Many organizations will have values they can lean on to inform their planning.
- Take a human-first approach, which is to say, make your plans based on input and data about the situations and feelings of your employees.
- Be transparent. It’s better to err on the side of too much information than to leave anyone in doubt or fear. Employees prefer to stay informed, even if the news is not always good news.
- Build flexibility into your plan by providing employees and teams with workspace alternatives, such as continuing to work from home or using nearby on-demand office spaces.
- Stay in touch with employees and keep an eye on the metrics as things evolve.
Let domain experts inform your planning
Re-entry is a cross-functional initiative if there ever was one. Fortunately, experts across many disciplines have been publishing their advice and ideas on how to approach re-entry. Below is a rundown of resources for re-entry planners.
- CDC: Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), May 2020
- Gartner: 7 Early Return to Workplace Lessons from Asia
- Fast Company: 5 changes to expect in the workplace after COVID-19
- PRvoke: Covid-19: What It Means For Employee Communications
- Ragan: 6 ways to ensure your COVID-19 messaging is relevant
- IABC: 7 Science-Based Rules for Communicating in High-Stress Environments
Corporate real estate
- Gensler: 10 Considerations for Transitioning Back to Work in a Post-COVID-19 World
- JLL: COVID-19: Top 10 focus areas for workplace re-entry checklist
- BOMA: Getting Back to Work: Preparing Buildings for Re-Entry Amid COVID-19 (PDF)
- Vox: This is the end of the office as we know it
- YouTube: Augmenting Work from Home with On-Demand Offices
- Risk Management: Lessons from China’s COVID-19 Recovery
- OSHA: “Ten Steps All Workplaces Can Take to Reduce Risk of Exposure to Coronavirus”
- Gartner: Return-to-Workplace Guide for HR Leaders
- Littler: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for Business Preparedness
- Gallup: U.S. Workers Discovering Affinity for Remote Work
- Inc: Why Twitter’s Move to Allow Work From Home Forever Matters
- NY Times: What if You Don’t Want to Go Back to the Office?
- Faegre Drinker Law: Question & Answer Employer Guide: Return to Work in the Time of COVID-19
- SGR Law: Getting Back to Work in Uncertain Times – Guidelines for Employers
- Goodwin Law: Preparing for Re-entry: Key Considerations for Returning Employees to the Workplace Amid the COVID-19 Crisis