COVID-19: How to help your team transition back to the office
By Megan Bandy
When businesses were first required to work remotely, it proved to be a difficult adjustment for many. However, several months later, as many are transitioning back into the office, many seem to be having an equally difficult time adjusting. During the spring and summer, employees had a taste of what it was like to have no commute and spend more time with their families in the comfort of their own home. While office culture and collaboration changed for many teams, many gained the opportunities to experience certain perks that in-office work couldn’t offer.
There’s no softening the fact that coming back to the office will be hard for many people. However, you can avoid much of the pain by making sure you have a robust plan in place to approach this difficult transition. Your focus should be on keeping your team healthy and happy by implementing considerate changes to ease stress.
Update your office’s COVID-19 preparedness
While a return to the office must comply with local ordinances about COVID-19 safety, it’s also important that precautions are in place to keep employees healthy upon return. Going above and beyond in caring for your employees’ health will not only ensure that fewer of them are sick, but will also help everyone feel valued, supported, and safe in the workplace.
Regarding hygiene, you should provide plenty of access to soap and towels to encourage regular hand washing. Similarly, there should be hand sanitizer readily available and shared or frequently used surfaces should be cleaned often. If your team is responsible for keeping their area clean, provide cleaning supplies for the office to make it easier for everything to remain as sanitary as possible.
While most of us are aware of social distancing guidelines, including remaining 6 feet apart, it can be difficult to know how those apply to work environments, especially if space feels limited. Because it’s important that everyone has a minimum of 6 feet to themselves, you should intentionally limit the number of people in-office to how many people can fit while maintaining appropriate space. You can help encourage distance by marking the 6-foot distance between desks or by posting signs that help the flow of traffic move in one direction around the office. Distancing can be difficult for people to remember or enjoy, especially if it’s been a while since they’ve seen their coworkers in a long time and want to catch up. Try to keep things fun and social as much as possible by holding meetings outside, encouraging chit chat via slack or from a distance, and holding fun team activities that encourage collaboration. Learn more about building your team culture here.
The final notable recommendation has to do with how you approach illness on your team. Rather than creating an environment that encourages employees to “tough it out”, it’s important that you give employees plenty of room to stay home when they don’t feel well. In fact, it should be highly encouraged, especially during COVID-19 and flu season, that any hint of sickness is enough reason to work from home or take a sick day. Even if it negatively impacts your team’s schedule or productivity to have one or two people out for a couple of days, it’s much better than everyone on your team getting sick at once.
Learn more about the recommendations for readying your office by checking out the CDC’s current guidelines here.
Adapt the culture
While preparing your office for employees’ return to help keep everyone healthy should be the main priority, don’t neglect to consider the importance of helping employees readjust to in-office life. Strong, collaborative culture is essential to your team’s happiness and effectiveness. It’s likely why many companies had a difficult time when first adapting to remote working at the start of the pandemic. Learning to adapt your culture to fit your team’s situation will help ease the uncertainty brought about by COVID-19.
As everyone readjusts to working in-office, even if only part-time, you should reinstill some practices from before the pandemic. If you went to lunch with your colleagues on a regular basis, try finding ways to incorporate this back into your culture by catering a meal once a week or eating together outside. People are likely to feel comfortable more quickly when you reestablish your pre-pandemic team-building activities.
Learn more about building a culture of empathy by checking out our full-length ebook.
What do I do if only part of my team is in-person?
It can also be challenging to balance a partially-remote team since you’ll need to approach managing in-person and remote employees in different ways, while also working to maintain a cohesive team. Help keep your team connected by implementing some remote culture team-building activities that can help keep everyone connected. You can learn more about these in our remote-culture blog post here.
Focus on well-being
This year has been difficult and chaotic for a lot of people--it’s important to keep that in mind as people adjust to working in-office again. Instead of focusing as intently on numbers and efficiency during this time, turn your attention to your employees’ overall wellbeing. Keeping them healthy and happy will only be beneficial to your company’s success, so take the time to plan the best strategy for your team while connecting with them on a personal level. By doing so, you can help bring some humanity and stability to a trying time.
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