The coronavirus has changed the way we work, especially in an office.
According to research from Bloomberg, only 28 and 21 percent of workers in New York and San Francisco respectively were back in the office this autumn, with hopes that number will steadily increase in the new year.
Returning to the office is stressful – we’ve been in a difficult situation for nearly two years, and employees may be nervous about returning to the office (and for a good reason). So how can you ease the transition back to the office? From managing employee expectations to the best cleaning protocols to keep your employees safe, we’ve broken down three of the most effective strategies below.
Consider Your Employees
Your plan to return to the office is probably getting some pushback. According to recent data from Forbes, 31 percent of workers say that their comfort level with working in an office environment has declined since the Delta variant – and the numbers are still out on Omicron. Instead of getting frustrated, take a moment to consider the past eighteen months’ changes (and challenges). Your employees have battled a global pandemic and adjusted to changes you can’t even imagine. Before creating your ‘return to office plan’, consider questions such as:
- What challenges have my employees faced during the pandemic?
- How has working from home enhanced my employees’ lives? How has it made them worse?
- What are my employees most concerned about when it comes to safety? How can I address those concerns?
- How can I be flexible with my employees?
- What employees should I watch closely?
Unsure of the answers to these questions? Speak to your employees directly about the challenges they face and what concerns them the most. If you meet your employees where they are, you’ll have a better chance of achieving office harmony.
Focus on Cleaning
According to research from Hubble (in partnership with Concrete VC), 94 percent of respondents surveyed said they would feel considerably safer in the workplace if employees implemented a detailed cleaning protocol with antiviral spraying.
The cleaning experts at SERVPRO recommend implementing the following cleaning protocols:
- Product Protocol: SERVPRO’s team recommends using a hospital-grade disinfectant when cleaning the office.
- Hygiene Protocol: SERVPRO’s experts recommend implementing a hygiene protocol. Ask your employees to clean their hands frequently, avoid touching their face during coughs and sneezes, disinfect high-touch services (doorknobs, handrails, light switches, etc.), and increase ventilation by opening windows and increasing air conditioning.
- Office Protocol: to further reduce risk, eliminate any contact your office workers have with one another (handshakes, hugs, etc.), hold meetings in open, well-ventilated areas, and disinfect surfaces in high-contact areas (desks, keyboards, and telephones).
Optimize Office Time
There’s no doubt about it – life (and work) won’t go back to the way it was before. However, many employees have gotten used to working from home, and the benefits are significant. Lack of commute time, a more flexible dress code and the freedom from distracting meetings are all reasons to work from home indefinitely.
However, there are plenty of reasons to work in the office. Working together every day increases team camaraderie and can facilitate creative ideas. As an employer, it’s your job to pick out the tasks that your employees need to perform at work, and it’s essential to be discerning – there has never been a time when your employees will be more willing to push back on a task they feel like they could complete at home. Most of these tasks fall into two categories:
- Collaborative: tasks that require a team to bring them together, or creative input from multiple stakeholders
- Informational: like collaborative tasks, informational tasks require specific information held by a few parties when the employer judges that it would be most efficient for the employees to discuss the work together.
However, be sure not to fall into the easy trap of having employees come to work to attend meetings. In a recent article for Harvard Business School, executive Julia Austin made a very apt point: “…I suggest managers put some structure in place to ensure that time in the office is prioritized for face time.”
Austin doesn’t just mean face time for meetings. She discusses the importance of all those small conversations that we used to have at the water cooler, walking to lunch or on our way out for the weekend, suggesting that those interactions are as meaningful as seeing colleagues in person in meetings.
Business as Usual
While the coronavirus has changed things, primarily how we work, it’s important to remember that many of these changes are positive. By understanding your employees, prioritizing cleanliness and optimizing office time, your business will be back to normal in no time.