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The beginning stages of a return-to-the-office plan

Employers have begun, or should start, thinking about how they’re going to have their employees return to the office. This is no easy task! There are so many factors that go into safely having any number of employees return to the office, from how they’re going to get there to how you’re going to rearrange the physical office setup.

Feature image for a return-to-the-office plan

Creating a return-to-the-office plan is a team effort and needs to take every employee into account. While we don’t have all of the answers to how to do it (nobody does!), we have put together a guide on where to start and which areas you’ll need to touch on. 

Keeping up with city and state orders

A rolling starting point is keeping up with city and statewide quarantine orders. Some states and cities have already begun opening more services, while others are taking their time. This is changing everyday based on the number of cases in the US – especially through the holiday season. There are updates on quarantine restrictions, it seems, on an hourly basis. The best you can do is check daily or a few times a week to see where your company stands based on location. The important thing is to not rush back, even if you’re legally allowed to have employees back in the office.

This is an even more important step if you have multiple office locations, in multiple cities. Some employees may be able to return to the office before others. You need to be on top of it so that you’re considerate of every employee’s situation.

Survey employees

After you have a grasp on a timeline of when you can return to the office, you need to find out where your employees stand. Getting comfortable with quarantine orders was a challenge. Returning from quarantine orders will most likely prove to be a bigger challenge. 

Every employee’s situation is different. Parents will have to figure out daycare with limited options. Others may have chosen to quarantine in a location that isn’t their main residence, which means they’ll have to figure out a way to make it home or simply continue to work remotely for the foreseeable future. Employee commutes won’t be as they were before quarantine either.

In order to get a grasp on the state of your workforce, you need to ask them. Conducting a company-wide survey means you can gather as much information as possible in order to put an effective plan in place. You don’t want to be presumptuous or premature with return plans, and an in-depth survey will keep that from happening. Some points you want to touch will include:

  • Timeline of return
  • Confidence of commuting and being around others in the office
  • Comfort of working from home
  • Family and individual needs and situations
  • Plan for commuting when the time comes

These are high-level points of information you will need to gather from your employees. There are so many factors that go into one employee’s decision making process, then you multiply that by the number of employees you have! This won’t be an easy task, but it’s the most necessary — you can’t make any assumptions, since this is a completely unheard of situation.

Setting realistic goals

In order to have an effective return, you’re going to need to set realistic goals. For example, you may want to set goals of:

  • Percentage of employees you want to return
  • How many you want to adopt a bike commute
  • Ideal drive-alone commute rate
  • Percentage of long-term remote workers

Most employees won’t have the same commute as before and some may be reluctant to adopt a new commute that isn’t driving alone. Setting realistic goals will give guidelines of what needs to be done, especially to keep employees from resorting to their own personal vehicles. 

That goes for remote working as well. Sometimes no commute is the best commute, at least for the time being. Now that employees have seen they can get their work done from home, they may choose to do so more permanently. You need to set goals for what that will look like. You don’t want to have an empty office all the time, but you want employees to feel comfortable with the amount of space they have to distance from others. So setting an office capacity goal in conjunction with a work-from-home goal can give employees options!

Employee communication

After you have a general return date, gather as much employee information as possible, and set return goals, you have to let employees know the plan. That doesn’t mean putting together a 10 page document to send out — you know nobody’s going to read that. You need to provide concise points to get employees the most important information. 

You can even create personalized plans with information that will be useful to different sets of employees. An employee who lives in the city and previously rode public transit may need a new commuting method. You can send them information about a new bike-to-work initiative your company put together to help explore other options!

The most important part is getting employees the information that is most useful to them. That could mean having a resource page on the company intranet, or sending employees information upon request. Either way, you have to make sure you’re on top of the situation as much as possible, even if it requires a lot of manual work on your part.

If employees decide working from home is going to be more permanent, you may want to help them out. Since their commuting costs will be lower, providing them a work-from-home stipend for a workspace can go a long way, like for a standing desk or second home monitor.

If a permanent work-from-home schedule isn’t possible, you’ll want to think about flexible work schedules. Commuting is going to be different once employees start coming back to the office. Allowing employees to change their work schedule means they can commute when it’s safest (and maybe more convenient) for them. This could mean employees come in from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., or 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., for example. You can also allow employees to work half of the day in the office and the other half from home. 

However you want to create a new work schedule, the most important thing is communication and the safety of your employees. Combine that with a successful commute management strategy, and you’ve got yourself a plan.

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