Post-Pandemic Planning 101: Getting Back to the Office

elbow tap as a post-pandemic greeting

After more than two months working remotely, it is difficult to imagine heading back into the physical office. With many states lifting shelter in place restrictions, leadership must begin strategizing a return. Has your business started post-pandemic planning?  

No matter the size, every organization is trying to figure out how to transition into the office. There are many variables to consider from the lunch hour to who comes back and when. One thing’s for certain. No one will return to the same office they left. 

“The workplaces that we left are not going to be the workplaces that we go back to,” Joanna Daly, vice president of compensation, benefits, and HR business development at International Business Machines Corp told Bloomberg. “We’re going to have to learn a new way of interacting with each other that was not the way we were interacting a few months ago.” 

The first decision leaders must make is when to reopen. Of course, businesses must adhere to state and federal rules or they run the risk of penalty. Next, comes the logistics of bringing people back inside the office walls.  

Use these guidelines as a discussion starter. If you have begun planning for the big return, make sure you have thought about each of these elements. 

Three Key Considerations for Post-Pandemic Planning  

People
Take a moment to think about this situation from your employees’ perspective. For more than two months, they worked from their home offices and were instructed to practice social distancing as much as possible. It would not be surprising if your staff are reluctant to take public transit or return to a busy office.  

Nicole Martin, CEO and Founder of HRBoost, urges employers to prioritize safety. “To retain talent and build commitment, employers will come up with new ways of working. Ideally, every business would provide virtual working opportunities. However, this is not ideal for every business. For businesses that must engage in work on-premise, the business must communicate what they will be doing specifically to keep employees safe.”  

Consider a phased approach to recalling your people. One post-pandemic strategy is for employees to alternate days or weeks in the office to avoid overcrowding. Another approach is slowly increasing the number of employees in office space. For example, first a quarter of the staff return, then fifty percent, and eventually all employees. 

Your building may provide rules or guidelines to the number of people allowed in the office at any given time. Check with the building’s management.  

Leaders must show compassion to the difficulties some employees may face when you open your doors. Some may have young children without school or camp to supervise them, others may be medically vulnerable. This is your chance to empathize with these struggles and make accommodations in these cases. 

Martin says, “Diving into business as usual is insensitive, so considering the emotional and social frameworks that must be supported throughout this crisis will be critical to anyone’s success. If this is difficult for you, start the meeting with a round-robin, ‘If you only knew….’ and have everyone fill in the blank. As a leader it will help you gauge the climate you are walking into and you will be at a better advantage to come prepared.”  

Some of your people may have fallen in love with working remotely. Start thinking about new virtual work policies. If an employee stayed productive and completed goals while working from home, they may present a valid argument to adjust their schedule.  

Once you decide on policies, make sure all managers and leaders understand the new rules. Give them guidelines for communicating with your people.  

Places 

Since the 1990s, open plan offices flooded business interior design. Unfortunately, these fluid spaces are a breeding ground for viruses. Interior spaces will need a bit of a makeover.  

Mark Canavarro, founder and CEO of OBEX Office Panel Extenders, told Bloomberg his team has been, “inundated with requests for hardware and panels to add walls to the low-level partitions on shared desk spaces. 

Bloomberg reported some of the country’s biggest employers like IBM and Goldman Sachs are considering hiring new employees to make their office spaces safer, “hiring for new jobs, such as thermal scanner and elevator attendants, finding ways to monitor employee whereabouts and health, and retrofitting entire skyscrapers’ worth of space.”  

Leaders need to consider the bigger picture. Shared desks and collaborative seating places must go in the time of social distancing. Lunchrooms can no longer be a congregation spot. If you use a coworking space, look to your landlord for new ways of using the shared space.  

Have you had a cleaning crew sanitize the entire office yet? That must be done before employees return to work and regularly afterward. Consider investing in a ventilation system.  

PPEs 

It is time to start purchasing PPEs for your employees. No, you do not need medical-grade N95 masks, but you should have hand sanitizer, masks, and even gloves available to your people. Make the experience slightly more pleasant by branding these items with your mission statement, logo, or positive messages.  

Think of ways to limit contact around the office. For example, follow the JP Morgan Chase method of hiring an elevator attendant to limit the number of people touching the call buttons. Place disinfecting wipes throughout the office. Put them next to doors so employees can use and discard them. 

Providing your employees with additional safety measures around the office demonstrates your concern for their health and wellbeing in a post-pandemic working world. 

Are you liable? 

Many organizations worry about the consequences of an employee or customer becoming infected by COVID-19 while onsite. The employment attorneys at Much Law warn, “if a business disregards federal or state guidelines, and a significant number of its customers, vendors, or visitors become infected, this could, in theory, give rise to a potential [legal] claim [against the business].” 

It is time to revisit your sick leave policies. Can you afford to offer employees paid sick leave? Do not forget the CDC’s advisement: if you are sick, stay home. Make the decision easier for your staff by compensating them when they are unable to come into work. Remember, they are now familiar with working virtually. 

Create your post-pandemic plan 

This is not a time to wing it. Your employees will be able to tell if you have not done any post-pandemic planning. They are looking for your leadership to guide them through these challenging times. Rise to this challenge. Your people are counting on you.