Strategically Planning for Returning Employees After COVID-19

With the evolving status of the Coronavirus pandemic, many employers will soon be confronted with yet another new challenge.  How does an organization safely and seamlessly bring back a workforce that has been furloughed or working remotely?  With many variables to weigh with this decision, the time is now to be holding these important discussions as a return to the office appears to be imminent.  So, as you determine the best plan of action for your company’s specific situation, here are some items to consider. 

1.  Employee Safety 

Social distancing has been a major theme for 2020 and may need to continue upon returning to the office.  Whether this be managed through a reduced or spread out workforce, efforts to prevent frequent employee close contact with others will be vital to keeping the workplace healthy. 

Potential ways this might work in your office include: 

  • Alternating workdays to keep a low number of individuals physically in the office 
  • Staggering shift start/end times to reduce the risks of large crowds gathering in a certain area (ex. at elevators or building entrances) 
  • Change seating arrangements to maintain a safe distance between employees 
  • Keep gathering spots (conference rooms, break rooms, building cafeteria, etc.) temporarily closed for use 

Other considerations for employee safety should be made for maintaining clean hygiene actions in the building.  Encourage employees to wash hands as they enter/exit the building.  Provide hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes for employees to use while in the office.  Determine if masks are to be a requirement at any time while in the building. 

2.  Determine Urgency of Returning 

For many employers, embracing a teleworking model has proved to be a viable solution.  If productivity has not declined during this period, then there may not be a reason to rush employees back to the office.  Much may be learned in the coming weeks about the active status of the pandemic and choosing to stay the course of working remotely just a little longer may outweigh the potential risks. 

The urgency of a return may also vary per department, role, or even individual.  Those who are at a higher risk should be asked to avoid coming to the office at first.  Others may be permitted more time to work remotely if their role or team is not lacking efficiency while being away from the office building. 

3.  Strengthen Employee Morale  

While having employees back in the office will be a welcome sight by employers, it also brings the opportunity to strengthen the feeling of a team environment.  Many may already be surprised by how much they miss being around their co-workers (yes, even the co-worker who never returns borrowed pens).  Now is a perfect time to let employees know how much you missed them too.  Whether it be welcoming them upon their return to the building, while hosting the first in-person meeting, or making company announcements, make each person feel personally welcomed and appreciated to be back.  This can go a long way in setting a positive tone for the next season. 

4.  Communicating a Clear Plan  

Whatever plan is determined to best meet your company’s needs, make sure employees know what to expect and what is expected of them.  Some may be hesitant to return to the office due to health concerns; however, informing them of the extra cautionary measures that are taking place will help reduce those qualms.  

A mass return to the office may also offer a perfect time to introduce (or re-emphasize) new company policies.  For example, new guidelines may need to be put in place after observing a supportable model of working remotely.   

ExponentHR offers a variety of ways to help employers effectively communicate with employees.  Creating a company notice to appear on their personal dashboard page is an easy way to welcome everyone back while sending an acknowledgement required message center notifications helps ensure everyone is aware of a new policy or posted employee handbook.  Whatever your need, ExponentHR is here to help. 

Michael Schaerer
Michael Schaerer
Michael has been a member of ExponentHR since 2007 and presently serves as the team lead for the Enterprise Product Specialist Reporting and Analytics Team.