Bringing your team back to the office? Here’s what to consider

As a business leader, you are responsible for drafting plans to bring employees back to the office as safely as possible.

Nothing about going back will be familiar, for your team or you. 

Our coworkers have each transformed into Pig-Pen from the Peanuts comic strip to us, followed by a cloud of dirt and dust—or in this case, potential pathogens—wherever they go.

And yet, business must go on, if not exactly in the ways we once defined “as usual.” 

So if your organization is restoring in-office operations, the best you can do is mitigate the risk wherever you can, taking no detail for granted. 

No protocols will magically sort themselves out.

Here are the people policy questions you MUST ask before your team transitions back.

 

1WHO’S RESPONSIBLE?

There’s one call you’ll need to make right away, and it has nothing to do with PPE.

Who is in charge of how you return to the office? 

Employees will be looking for guidance on what is expected of them. Make sure you’ve designated one go-to person to oversee the process, and clearly communicate to the team. (It may be you.)

 

2WILL PPE BE REQUIRED? 

I can hear some of you gasping that this is even a question. And others who see masks as unnecessary and either dangerous or an infringement on their rights. 

Should employees wear masks at all times, or only when gathered for meetings? What happens when someone coughs in a shared space?

 

3WHO WILL CLEAN?

Who will be responsible for cleaning and sanitizing high-touch areas within each employee’s workspace? Like desk tops, drawer handles, headsets, keyboards, and other office equipment we handle and breathe on regularly…

A cleaning team? Will staff be expected to do it themselves? 

Whatever you decide, make it visible. People will want to SEE that their space is being regularly cleaned. For more specifics, here are OSHA and CDC guidelines.

 

4HOW WILL YOU HANDLE PUBLIC SPACES? 

Identify high-traffic areas like elevator banks, kitchens, etc. What guidelines will you put in place to minimize congestion?

 

5SHOULD SOME PEOPLE CONTINUE TELECOMMUTING? 

Will team members be given an opportunity to opt-out of returning to the office?

Some may have health conditions that make them more vulnerable. Others who deal with anxiety may especially struggle to focus in the office. 

The point is, everyone will be distracted. And, some will be more distracted than most, chewing up valuable bandwidth. What is the relative ROI of keeping them home versus bringing them in?

 

6WILL EMPLOYEES NEED TO SIGN WAIVERS? 

If your organization is especially risk-averse or prone to litigation, consider having people sign a waiver before they return, agreeing not to hold the company liable for an incidence of COVID-19.

 

ANTICIPATE DIVERSE REACTIONS

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. 

So, expect resistance and objections… it’s predictable.

Every person on your team will have their unique comfort level with health-related risk. They’ll range from some who want near-hazmat suits to feel safe, to others who’ll push back on wearing a mask around coworkers. 

So how do you create and implement the right-fit policy for your organization with the least drag and pushback?

 

GET YOUR TEAM’S BUY-IN

Involve your team in the decision-making process.

Poll your team for their thoughts on these key decisions. Let the whole organization weigh in.

Giving your team a say in what a return to the office looks like builds goodwill. They’ll feel respected that you care what they think, and will be that much more likely to engage and comply. 

The data also helps you find a balance point among the diverse POV’s your team represents.

You can synthesize the results to make clear decisions, and back them up.

Not everyone will be happy, but your team will feel heard and included in policy that impacts everyone. 

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

You’ve probably noticed that NONE of these decisions relate to the actual WORK of your business. All of this is going to take up time, energy and bandwidthresources that were likely stretched to begin with.

You’ll need to make decisions on where that bandwidth is coming from, and how to free up bandwidth from the mental clutter that IS your team’s collective distraction in the post-COVID world.

The key is to think of the details NOW, in advance of returning to the office, and institute clear protocols to reduce that distraction.

Ask the tough questions. Get input from your team wherever you can.  

And finally, we have an opportunity here, people: to make our new normal a better normal. 

Cultivate a sense of safety and clarity through thoughtful policy that allows your team to show up present and engaged, and I’ll show you a more productive, more successful, and dare I say it, happier team. 

Heck, that applies way beyond return-to-office safety protocols. Are you up for the opportunity?

If you need help navigating your team’s transition back to the office, we’re here for you. Feel free to schedule a quick and free strategy call with our COO, Kevin Smith

For more on strong leadership during the pandemic, check out this article… and this one too.

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