How to create a return to work strategy

Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has been an equalizer. There isn’t a single person the virus hasn’t affected in some way. It has disrupted everyone’s day-to-day routines. We haven’t seen our friends in a year, and leaving our homes has required masking up.

But in the United States, all of that’s about to change. With warmer weather and sunny skies comes the reopening of businesses and continued mass distribution of vaccines. After a year of remote work in sweatpants and makeshift home offices, it’s time to return to the office.

However, a return to the office doesn’t necessarily signal a return to a pre-pandemic normal. Business owners will still have to take precautions by creating a return to work strategy to welcome employees back safely.

Recognizing your company’s circumstances and working from there to find the best way to maintain efficiency will help your business stay successful. Here’s what you need to do to create an effective strategy.

Prep your office

Before the pandemic, you needed to keep your office space as clean as possible. During the pandemic, that objective has taken on added importance. You don’t want your employees to enter an unsanitary and unsafe environment.

In your return to work strategy, account for the ways you’ll protect against COVID-19, including taking steps to ensure surfaces in common areas are disinfected and arranging your meeting rooms for social distancing. Also consider rearranging your office layout to optimize spacing based on health guidelines.

What’s more, think about the areas in your office where your employees tend to congregate the most — elevators and break rooms, for instance. Sanitizing these areas can go a long way toward assuring your employees that you’ve done everything you can to ensure their safety. An employee who feels unsafe at the office isn’t likely to be very productive, so making your office as hygienic as possible will have long-lasting benefits.

Listen to employees

Be consistent with your messaging. If you tell employees it’s time to come back to the office without consulting with them about their needs and preferences, your culture is going to suffer.

Keep lines of communication open to see what else you should incorporate in your return to work strategy. Ask your employees for input about new office design plans, their comfort level being around others, and their preferences for individual workspaces.

Seeking employee input might bring up ideas you hadn’t considered yet. Plus, by including employees in this process, they’ll feel like active stakeholders in your efforts to make your office as safe as possible.

Provide educational material

Coming back to the office isn’t going to be seamless. When you set your return to work strategy, there’s going to be an adjustment period.

One way to ease this process, as the CDC recommends, is putting up signs that remind both employees and visitors of proper protocols and policies. That can mean illustrating the right way to wash hands as well as providing tips on how to keep office spaces clean. It may also mean reminding employees to inform you about their out-of-office activities — like traveling and visiting crowded spaces.

Hold meetings to educate workers on the new policies and make yourself available to employees who want to learn more about them. The more transparent you are, the more confident your employees will be in your efforts to keep them safe.

Establish mutual trust

While you may have the best intentions when it comes to employee safety, they still have a responsibility to follow your return to work strategy.

For example, unvaccinated employees can present additional roadblocks to keeping your office safe. With research showing that 57 percent of employees prefer mandatory vaccinations before returning to the office, you have an opportunity to make sure your employees are looking out for one another.

On the other hand, your employees should be aware that they’re ultimately responsible for their decisions.

Another factor to consider is how employees have gotten used to remote work and not being around their coworkers. When they come back to the office, your team might need a grace period to adjust to new rules. Putting your best foot forward by encouraging them to follow the rules shows you’re considering their well-being and helps smooth the transition.

Keep proper records

A year is a long time to be away from the office. In addition to creating a return to work strategy that considers your employees’ health, you’ll also need to establish a system to track how they’re following your new procedures. And if you’re saving records, you’ll need a place to store them. That’s where Jotform comes in.

Whatever you want to monitor, Jotform offers several form templates designed for workplace pandemic management, including self-declaration forms, self-screening questionnaires, coronavirus response forms, and return to work forms.

You can customize these form templates to monitor employee behavior, chart your employees’ return to work, and take note of any illnesses to ensure you know the health status of everyone in your office. That way, you can curb the spread of the virus in the office and identify any issues.

Even better, the Jotform Form Builder can integrate with software you already use, such as Google Drive and Airtable. Keeping good records is as important as implementing the right health measures. With Jotform, you can make sure you stay organized throughout your transition back to the office.

Take a 360-degree approach

If you’re going to execute a successful return to work strategy, you have to consider every variable. Safeguarding employee health and outfitting your office to protect against the virus is just the beginning. You should also vigilantly monitor your employees’ choices in and out of the office and encourage them to get vaccinated. Your plans should extend to office visitors as well.

Returning to the office is exciting. Working with colleagues face to face after a year of Zoom meetings will be a nice change of pace. With the right strategies and record keeping, when 2022 rolls around, your business will still run like a well-oiled — and healthy — machine.

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

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