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    There has been a lot of talk about returning to work of late. As states begin to roll back restrictions and other states begin to map out their plans for reopening businesses, many companies are left wondering if and when they should allow their employees to return to the office. In our opinion, if you can delay it, you should.

     

    It is no secret that the abrupt transition to remote work has been difficult on companies and their employees. Many employees are seeing their productivity drop as they struggle to care for their children who have shifted to remote learning, stay healthy, be motivated, and more. Mental health issues are also on the rise, as people cope with the stress and anxiety of these unprecedented times. Despite these challenges with working remotely, we think it’s imperative for companies to continue allowing their employees to work from home, unless their business operations require an in-person presence.

     

    If you are still trying to decide if you should reopen your office, we recommend first asking your employees what they want. Do a current state assessment and see if they are ready to go back to work. Collect data and review the feedback. If you find that people aren’t ready, then don’t push it. If they are ready, here are some things for you to further consider before reopening:

    • Why do you want to return to the office? How are you setting your timeline?
    • How will returning to the office impact the health and well-being of all my employees?
    • Do I have the right policies and protections in place that are needed to prevent people from getting sick?
    • How will I support employees who don’t feel comfortable or are not able to return to the office?

    Think long and hard about each of these questions. The responses will allow you to understand your future plans and gaps and help you dig into your “why” for considering an imminent return to the office. Can any of your reasons for wanting to return be addressed remotely? Are you trying to reconnect with your team? Do you feel like productivity is slipping? What tools and tactics can you use to work through those things so that you can potentially avoid putting your team at risk. Just remember: the impact of your decision will have a lasting impact — especially if your plan is not executed effectively. If you ultimately decide to reopen, in addition to thinking about known variables, it is important to start planning for unknown variables — or things that are relatively new to us now that we do not yet have a historical plan for.

     

    Cleanliness

    New regulations for cleanliness in public spaces are being released continuously. So much is unknown about the long term impact of this virus. Do you have the right supplies and staff to handle this?

     

    Social Distancing

    Think about how you will enforce social distancing in the office. Will people work in shifts? How does this impact their commute? If someone gets sick, can you ensure it isn’t because they got too close to a coworker or someone in the building?

     

    Legal Ramifications

    We are in uncharted terrain right now. If an employee gets sick, they will be able to make a claim that they contracted the virus because they had to come back to work too soon. Is your legal team ready to address this on a rolling basis?

     

    As employees go back to work, companies can do their best to prepare and tell their employees what to do. But, at the end of the day, we are headed into uncharted territory and these new policies will take time to learn. For many of us, we will need to unlearn certain behaviors in order to adapt. So much has changed in the past few months, companies need to ensure that they are acting in a proactive, rather than reactive way in order to keep their employees safe. The most important thing leadership can do during return to work planning is to establish and build trust with their team. When you create a safe space for your employees to open up and share how they are feeling about returning to the office, you will have a real pulse on how the decisions you are making are impacting your team.

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