Earlier this month, President Biden encouraged Americans to return to in-person working.
On March 5, the President said: “Because of the progress we’ve made in fighting COVID, Americans can not only get back to work, but they can go to the office and safely fill our great downtown cities again.” With an estimated 75% of adults in the United States fully-vaccinated and hospitalizations down 77%, major corporations are planning to return to in-person work.
Although COVID-19 has dissipated, many workers are still hesitant to return to the office and have been left with many questions as their employer deliberates a plan of action.
What safety measures will be implemented? How will my flexible work-life balance change? Who can I reach out to about my concerns?
To address these inevitable stressors and encourage the return to in-office collaborative workspaces, employers are hunting for ways to meet employee needs and create a safe office environment. Here are our top five steps you can take to be ahead of the curve:
Step #1 - Set Expectations
Clear communication is never more important than in times of crisis. Proactively communicating your company’s return to office policy creates alignment across your workforce and level sets expectations.
It is essential to create a detailed plan that preemptively addresses employee concerns around safety and work-life balance. By publicly sharing your reopening policies and changes in protocols, you can reduce uncertainty and anticipate frequently asked questions. Most importantly, when employee questions do arise, it is important to provide an open discussion channel to allow voicing of ideas, concerns, or questions about how the transition back to the workplace will take place.
Step #2 - Embrace Hybrid Work Weeks
After months of uncertainty around in-office and out-of-office work policies, employees have developed varying preferences for flexible working. Recent surveys conducted by the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics show 30% of employees feel more productive and engaged working from home. Phasing your company’s transition to in-person working allows your employees more time to adjust their lifestyles to post-COVID habits. Phasing or maintaining a hybrid work week can also help enable employers to retain existing employees and attract new talent for those who are looking for flexibility in their work schedule.
Following the public announcement of plans to resume business travel and return to the office on March 15, Twitter CEO, Parag Agrawal reaffirmed the company’s commitment to flexible work: “So too, the decisions about where you work, whether you feel safe traveling for business, and what events you attend, should be yours.”
Apple has asked employees to work at least one day per week in-person starting the week of April 11, with the requirement ramping to three days per week starting on April 23. Meanwhile, Google has created a transition period, asking workers to be in the office three days per week starting April 4.
In similar fashion, American Express CEO Stephen Squeri, announced “AmexFlex,” a new policy that encourages employees to work with their teams and supervisors to set policies and develop a flexible plan to return to office.
Whether it is a short-term initiative to transition back to fully in-office or a new permanent flexible work schedule, implementing the hybrid work week will help ease employee concerns over returning to the office.
Step #3 - Offer Resources
Opinions on the COVID-19 virus and company policies will undoubtedly vary across your employee base. To support your company’s decisions, use credible resources to highlight how other employers and communities are returning to normal. Additionally, be sure to recognize the concerns and comfort levels with the return to in-office work by providing flexible resources for employees to shape their transition to their needs.
Lastly, as COVID-19 may be around for the foreseeable future, be sure to provide up-to-date vaccination information from credible organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health, and prepare lists of nearby vaccination sites to encourage vaccine protection among employees in the office. An estimated 63% of the world population has received at least one dose of the vaccine and over 75% of Americans.
Step #4 - Leverage Innovative Technologies to Keep a Clean Office
Investing in next-generation technology in the office signals to employees your company’s commitment to creating a modern, clean, and safe office environment.
Air quality in the workplace matters and ensures a healthy environment for your company’s employees and visitors. With WYND’s Indoor Air Quality Optimization Service, your business can leverage WYND Air Purifiers and WYND Air Quality Monitoring Software to remove germs, allergens, dander, smog, and other pollutants from your office and track air quality in any business environment. By establishing a Clean Air Zone Certification, you can highlight your company’s proactive approach to keeping a clean office. Check out WYND’s free air quality consultation for businesses here.
From bathroom hand dryers and touchless sink faucets to automated entrances and hand sanitizer dispensers, touchless technology is both convenient and COVID-friendly. By eliminating physical contact with technology in shared spaces, employees can feel greater confidence in minimizing the spread of germs, viruses, and bacteria.
Step #5 - Rethink Your Space
When your office allows it, redesigning your layout to provide more personal space for employees can create safe, physical distance and help encourage a return to in-person working.
Many workers have noted that hybrid workplaces can be a hassle when it comes to video calls and meetings. With some workers sitting in conference rooms and others joining via Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx, and Zoom, the meeting experience can be disrupted when microphones and cameras stop working. Similarly, shared workspaces can make it difficult for workers to concentrate when nearby colleagues are listening or speaking on calls.
By providing more personal space, employees feel a stronger sense of security and privacy in their work environment and are more likely to support a return to in-person working.
The latest round of return to office will be yet another test of employees and employers. Whether you are a large or small business, taking the initiative to create a deliberate approach to return to office will minimize disruptions and ease employee concerns as your business navigates this transition. By leading with clear communication, remaining flexible, offering resources, investing in technology, and rethinking your office space, you can encourage a smooth return to office.