These last months have been...unusual, to say the least, and we’ve all had to adapt fast to continually changing circumstances in our personal and professional lives.
But, here’s the good news: things are, slowly, heading back in the direction of normal, or into the “new normal” should we say. With the right protocols and procedures in place, we’re able to finally see our colleagues face-to-face again, as offices and workspaces begin to open up.
Chances are, many of your employees might be a little concerned about the prospect of going back to the office - a perfectly understandable worry to have.
Ensuring that the office is a comfortable, safe, and sanitary environment is going to be one of the main challenges organisations face over the next few months.
One simple and effective way to prepare your workspace and your staff for life in the new reality is with a return-to-office checklist.
Ready for a run-down of what you need to do to make the return to work a smooth process?
Let’s get you prepared!
The post-pandemic return to work checklist
Task 1: Take the time to really understand the impact of the pandemic to your business
A (small) silver lining of the last few months is the opportunity it's provided for a bit of a breather and a reset. The pandemic situation has required businesses to pivot swiftly to more flexible and remote ways of working, and embrace processes that they might have been resistant to in the past.
Going back to work now gives companies a chance to re-establish good habits and practices, as well as learning a few lessons about effective working and productivity.
So how can businesses ensure that they embed the good working practices developed over the last few months in the day-to-day running of the office?
One thing you can do (before you dive into taking action) is be mindful of the stress many of your employees will have experienced over the past few months. It’s likely that some of your employees will have enjoyed these new ways of working. Whilst others may have loathed being at home.
Take the time to consider the diverse affect this pandemic has had on your workforce and approach the next tasks in an empathetic and thoughtful way.
Even better, ask your staff about their experiences of the last few months. Send a survey to your staff to collate feedback, gauge attitudes and get an idea of how you can get everyone back to work confidently.
Task 2: Take a phased approach
Careful planning is crucial in guaranteeing a safe return to work, and the number one item on any return to office checklist.
Governments around the world have taken a phased approach to opening up their countries following the lockdown restrictions, and there’s no reason this can’t work for businesses too.
A phased opening needs careful management and frequent (as well as clear) communication. It’s important employees always have the latest information, especially as this will be a time where last minute tweaks and changes will (most definitely) occur.
For instance, the phase approach could look something like this: essential workers return to the office first, while anyone who can easily work from home can carry on as usual.
This can then move into a ‘pioneer’ phase, where small numbers of employees can pilot the new measures, before moving to around 50% physical attendance, with flexible working, attendance rotas and a mix of remote and in-office work.
At each phase, you need to decide who absolutely needs to be in the office, and who can stay home working.
Task 3: Re-evaluate the space you have
A fresh start means you can take a long hard look at your workspaces.
Are you using the space effectively? Could some desks be moved to create more room between employees?
New protocols mean that you just aren’t going to be able to cram as many people into open plan offices or meeting rooms as before...but this could be a great opportunity!
Meeting room space before the pandemic was often overbooked but underused, and office space was rarely used as well as it could be.
Use this opportunity to re-evaluate the space you have, and how you can use it better. Take advantage of new software and tools to make hot desking easier and facilitate social distancing.
Monitoring workspaces will be a necessary part of the new normality, and you might just find that this new data helps to reduce floor space and overheads, as well as making the workplace a safer place to be.
Task 4: Introduce (and stick to) necessary new safety measures
A vital part of any return to office checklist will be a list of the new measures and protocols that are essential for a safe reopening. Many of these will require significant changes in behaviours, as well as the physical layout of the office, so planning in advance will be crucial.
From the very first steps into (and out of) the office building, things will need some tweaking.
- One way systems for entering and exiting the building will prevent bottlenecks.
- All employees, visitors and anyone entering the office will need to undergo temperature checks, potential symptom self-reporting, and sanitisation measures.
- Pre-booked desk spaces will need to be enforced.
- A clear rota will need to be established for who can be in the office, and when.
- Strict protocols will need to be in place for how to manage visitors.
Task 5: Don't be afraid to tweak and change
Of course, however comprehensive your return-to-office checklist is, there’s going to be an element of playing things by ear. This is an extremely unusual time and situation, and we’re all going to be grappling with the unknown.
Nothing about the return to the office should be set in stone. Flexibility will be key, and you should not be afraid to return to an earlier phase of reopening if the situation dictates. Ensuring that employees feel comfortable and secure in the office is paramount. Putting new measures in place should not be a case of ‘set it and forget it’.
Test your new protocols every step of the way, encourage constant feedback from everyone involved, and adapt to new situations as they arise. This will be a learning process for everyone, and finding out what iterations of the return to work are the most effective for your business will be key.