Ready or not, many employees across the U.S. are heading back to work. While conditions and statistics vary from state to state, it has been encouraging to see a downward trend in coronavirus cases. Still, there are plenty of things to consider as you create your back-to-work strategy and decide when and how to bring your employees back to the office in person.
Even if you’re not quite ready to start the process, it’s wise to have your plan ready to go when the time is right. Your team has been working from home for several months now, and it will take some time to transition back to an in-office schedule and routine. On top of that, employees will also be facing new safety and health protocols at work. Many may still have concerns about virus spread, and others may care for children who are attending school virtually.
With all of these factor to consider, you need a well-planned strategy to help employees transition back to the office as smoothly as possible. Here are 5 questions that will help you formulate your back-to-work strategy.
1. Should any positions remain permanently remote?
Remote work has been a holy grail for younger workers long before COVID-19 came knocking. But now that it’s an enforced reality, some are rethinking. The truth is that remote work during COVID-19 is not what many envisioned, and 39% of Millennials say they are looking forward to going back to work in the office. An even more impressive 86% say that they want to work for a company that has a great office culture.
The point is that remote work isn’t right for everyone, and many people (Millennials and otherwise) are more productive in the office. That means your decision about keeping jobs remote should consider a variety of factors. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Cost – Think about costs of maintaining the technology and infrastructure to support specific roles on site versus the costs of supporting a remote team. Which roles could save you money by not requiring office space, and which ones might cost more in terms of lost productivity if you keep them remote?
- Pros and Cons – How has your company adapted to a remote workforce? Are teams still working well together? Have you found a good rhythm for remote project management, communication, and collaboration? Can you maintain consistent productivity levels with a remote workforce? Have outcomes for certain positions improved, suffered, or remained the same?
- Business Processes – What processes have had to change as a result of remote work? Are you happy with those changes or would teams function better in the office?
2. Can some positions follow a hybrid model?
In some cases, you may be able to get the best of both worlds by transitioning to a part-time remote model. If it makes sense for the role, employees could work from home part of the time and come in to the office only for meetings, presentations, or other specific parts of the job. There are several advantages to following a hybrid remote work model:
- Cost savings – By allowing a portion of your workforce to continue working remotely at least part of the time, you’ll save money on office space and technology infrastructure that would otherwise be required for them on site.
- Collaboration – At the same time, you’ll benefit from better communication and collaboration as employees interact in-person on an as-needed basis.
- Expanded recruitment – If you decide to truly create remote work opportunities (as opposed to work-from-home arrangements), you’ll be able to expand your geographical recruiting area. You may be able to hire people who live in other locations and have them come into the office once a month (or as necessary for meetings and client interactions).
- Flexibility – For those employees who need the flexibility to care for children or who have other extenuating factors, a hybrid remote work model may be an ideal fit.
3. What technology set-ups will you need?
Undoubtedly, you have already addressed certain technology needs for your employees as they have worked from home over the past few months. However, you may need to provide additional support if you intend to transition some employees to remote arrangements permanently. You may also need to rearrange technology setups as part of your back-to-work strategy. Here are a few things to consider:
- Collaboration tools – If you are already using Slack, Teams, or other project management and collaboration tools, consider whether they are sufficient for your long-term needs. Can you continue what you are doing indefinitely, or have there been process hiccups? Will you need a more robust platform? Will remote and in-office employees need better or more reliable ways to interact?
- At-home technology – If employees will continue working at home, do they have a sufficient interact connection and enough bandwidth to meet work expectations? Do they have the right kind of monitor, headset, and phone setup?
- Access to applications and software – Again, you probably already have a stop-gap measure in place to ensure that employees can access what they need. But will it serve your long-term needs? Can your HR software support remote interactions between employees and managers? Do you need productivity tracking software? Is it time to upgrade your enterprise software, re-examine your IT architecture, or take the leap into the cloud?
- Remote learning opportunities – Do you have sufficient remote learning infrastructure in place for onboarding, training, and professional development? If you are planning to keep some positions remote long-term, you may need to create new virtual learning resources and assets to support employees.
4. How can you create a safe workplace for those coming back to the office?
This question is probably already at the forefront of your mind. Social distancing, masks, and hand sanitizer should definitely be part of any back-to-work plan, but what else should you consider?
- Safety protocols – What safety protocols will you need to implement to reduce the risk of germ transmission? These might include hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment, limits on the number of people in a given space, daily health and temperature screenings, and new protocols for sanitizing workspaces and shared equipment like printers and copy machines.
- Safety training -Daily work probably won’t look the same when your employees come back. Implement safety training workshops to keep employees up to date on policies regarding person-to-person interaction, break room use, and social distancing.
- Office configuration – There may be elements of the physical office that need to be addressed. For example, can you increase ventilation, install more efficient air filters, set up partitions, or reconfigure desks and cubicles to create more distance?
- Sickness policies – Establish clear policies for how employees should handle suspected COVID-19 exposure. Policies should cover reporting to managers, self-monitoring, quarantining, and when/how an employee may return to work.
5. Is your business continuity plan sufficient?
COVID-19 has tested the ability of many business continuity plans to do what they are intended to do: keep your business functioning in the event of a crisis. The pandemic may have exposed gaps in your plan that need to be addressed. For example, you may need to reconsider your ERP software, move additional applications to the cloud, or re-evaluate your data storage needs.
It’s also a good idea to take another look at your security protocols, especially if a significant chunk of your workforce will be working remotely for the foreseeable future. For example, should you implement two-factor authentication for remote access? Do you need to update your VPN solution? Do your employees need to update their antivirus protection?
Implementing Your Back-to-Work Strategy
No one knows how COVID-19 will progress over the coming months. Downward trends in case counts have been encouraging; still, as more schools and business open and flu season ramps up, a COVID-19 flareup is possible. That’s why any back-to-work strategy must include the flexibility to pivot if circumstances change.
It’s also wise to consider taking a phased approach to bring employees back to the office. This would entail prioritizing the roles that most urgently need an in-person environment for efficiency and productivity, and then limiting how many employees return to the office at each stage.
It may take some time to return to a fully-staffed in-person office environment. A well-developed back-to-work strategy will help you navigate that process safely as you continue to place the highest priority on employee health and wellbeing.