A return to regular work is imminent for many employees, as restrictions in place as part of the coronavirus response are reviewed.

It’s a welcome move for businesses that have struggled through the disruption of remote working and social isolation.

But a reintroduction to office life can be dangerous if mishandled. Businesses that fail to properly plan a fitful, fragile, and the partial transition will be at high risk.

CEOs planning to reintegrate back into their regular business premises need a plan that maintains the health and safety of their employees, manages resources, and rebuilds morale.

Below are 7 essential considerations to ensure a successful transition back to work.

1. Manage Employee Numbers

Large volumes of employees returning to a shared workplace represents a huge risk for the spreading and contracting of viruses. Managing the number of workers will be critical to protecting workplace health. The higher the number, the higher the risk.

Plan a staggered reintroduction to the office. Establish a process such that a rotating group of employees work from the office every few days. Create these groups across functional lines, both to ensure coverage across roles and to support employee distancing.

Restricting employee numbers in this way will create a greater need for shift coverage. The business will need to manage this by informing team members in real-time and across all devices through tools like Microsoft Teams, etc.

2. Maintain Remote Working

Despite the availability of regular workplaces, it’s prudent for businesses to continue some form of remote working for several months (at least).

Many organizations may elect to keep staff working from home for economic reasons. Others may have a return to remote working forced upon them if a staff member suddenly contracts the virus. This reinforces the importance of an effective communications platform to connect with employees working from home.

3. Rethink Physical Setup

Reopening of workplaces won’t entirely remove all restrictions imposed during COVID-19. Businesses will still need to observe regulations governing social distancing, employee gatherings and hygiene practices. It’s likely that pre-virus working environments are unsuited to these new restrictions.

Businesses will need to be proactive in reconfiguring their office spaces. The requirement for 6 feet between employees impacts on individual seating arrangements and shared spaces.

Some considerations for rethinking physical workplaces have been summarized below

4. Rebuild Workplace Morale

The human component of returning to office life requires as much focus as the practical one. For staff who have been away from their workplaces for weeks or months, returning will feel unsettling. Much may have changed in the interim.

Successful businesses thrive on motivated workforces, so it’s important leaders invest efforts to rebuild workplace morale. Acknowledge any employee concerns and dispiritedness and treat announcements regarding the new operating environment with sensitivity.

There are many ways businesses can improve workplace culture, including promoting achievements, encouraging cross-functional collaboration, and painting a positive vision of the future.

5. Review Infrastructure Needs

For most businesses, the nature of how they work will take many months to return to what it was prior to COVID-19 disruption – if it returns at all. That means there are now likely to be deficiencies in the infrastructure and support that employees need to perform their jobs.

Effective platforms like Teams, Webex to enable employee communication, connectivity, and collaboration are essential to sustain business success. Every department should review their operations and identify any areas of deficiency – especially in technology and communication infrastructure.

6. Maintain Regular Communication

The COVID-19 situation has forced organizations to step up their communications. Many have communicated with their staff more in the last couple of months than they traditionally do under normal conditions.

Maintaining a regular frequency of communications also provides reassurance to employees who will naturally have questions about the future of the business and their roles. Two-way communication channels should be introduced to capture workplace sentiment around how staff are feeling and what they need.

7. Embed Your Learnings

The changes to work enforced by COVID-19 have delivered some benefits to businesses. Many have uncovered stronger collaboration within and across teams, more productive working routines and a reinforcement of positive health practices.

Foster virtual collaboration in person by encouraging cross-functional committees and rearranging seating arrangements to enable this. Break down silos by regularly communicating the status of key projects for each functional area. Maintain healthy workplace hygiene by reminding sick staff to stay home – particularly important with the continued risk of COVID-19 infection

Return to work programs are essential for businesses to develop now. Taking these considerations in mind when developing your plan for transitioning back into office life will help ensure in a great return plan.

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