How to Develop an Effective Return to Work Policy

As state and local authorities ease COVID-19 restrictions, more businesses are developing policies to guide the process of bringing their workforce “back to the office.” What that looks like, however, can vary significantly from one business to another. Certain companies may benefit from  continuing with remote work where possible, some are adopting a hybrid model that blends remote and on-site work, and others are working towards bringing their teams back to the physical office full-time as soon as possible.

Given the differences in what “returning to work” may look like from one business to the next, there’s no single return to work policy that applies universally to every business. Here’s a look at the essential steps and best practices that can help you develop an effective return to work policy that meets the needs of your business and your workforce.

Determine Which Workers Will Return (and in What Capacity)

After determining whether a partial or full return to the physical office is the best fit for your organization, the next key step in developing an effective return to work policy is to identify which team members would benefit most from returning and in what capacity. Are you bringing your entire workforce back to the physical workplace on a full-time or part-time basis, or will some roles remain fully or partially remote? You may decide to allow employees at high risk of complications from COVID-19 or those who are anxious or fearful of returning to the physical workplace to continue working remotely. In other cases, organizations are informing their strategy based on which teams were most negatively impacted or disrupted by the shift to remote work, as well as any groups that they may heavily rely on to do their jobs. No matter the strategy, it’s imperative to provide written guidance on the steps employees should take to request continued remote or hybrid working arrangements and the process for approving requests. If roles or job responsibilities are changing to support productivity, use your written return to work policy to promote transparency and set employees’ expectations.

For some businesses, it may make sense to put all the details in writing in your over-arching return to work policy. For others, decisions regarding whether individual employees or certain teams will remain remote, return to the physical workplace full-time, or a combination of the two (hybrid work), may have to be determined on a case-by-case basis. In these scenarios, it may be helpful to outline the process for decision-making, but cover the specifics for each team member or role in an individualized written policy.

Create Guidelines for Health Screening, Quarantining, and Testing

Another important element of any return to work strategy is having written guidelines for health screening, quarantining, and testing. Will your business require employees to have a negative COVID-19 test prior to returning to on-site work? What daily processes will be in place for health screening and symptom monitoring? Include a list of symptoms employees should be aware of, when they should stay home, and when and how to report on the presence of symptoms. For example, you might require employees to notify human resources if they’re experiencing two or more symptoms, isolate until they’ve been tested, and provide a negative COVID-19 test result before returning to the workplace.

Companies should also consider how they’ll handle contact tracing. If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, how will you notify close contacts of the need to quarantine, and how long will they be required to quarantine if exposed? Remember to refer to any applicable state, local, or industry guidelines to ensure your policies are in compliance with requirements and best practices.

Outline Expectations for Social Distancing and Hygiene

If some or all of your workforce is returning to on-site work, outline your expectations and company policies regarding social distancing when in the physical workplace. This may include policies for the use of common areas, processes for reserving shared spaces such as conference rooms for meetings, and any requirements for maintaining a safe physical distance between workers when possible on the job.

It’s also helpful to outline your policies for hygiene, including regular hand-washing, the availability of hand sanitizer throughout the workplace, and policies for cleaning and disinfecting individual and shared workspaces.

Describe Available Supports and Services

One of the most important elements of an effective return to work policy is making clear the company’s dedication to creating a positive and supportive work environment and helping employees maintain a healthy work-life balance. Describe the supports and services available to employees in your return to work policy, such as healthcare and mental health support services, services to help workers navigate any financial challenges they may be facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and initiatives to help workers cope with stress or anxiety. Include information about the availability of paid leave and the steps your company is taking to ensure employees’ privacy.

These supports and services may also include financial or technology resources to support employees at companies that are continuing remote work or hybrid work. For instance, if your company offers financial support to help workers set up a permanent remote workspace or other tools or equipment to support remote or hybrid work, include these details in your policy so that your workforce is fully informed of the resources available to them.

Leverage Workplace Analytics to Inform Your Strategy

Because returning to work looks different from one organization to the next, leveraging workplace analytics can help you create a customized, data-driven strategy that more effectively meets the needs of your workforce. Workplace analytics solutions can provide you with real-time, quantitative data to inform decision-making, establish internal benchmarks to monitor effectiveness over time, and make continuous improvements to ensure a supportive, productive work environment for every member of your workforce, whether they’re working remotely, returning to the physical workplace full-time or part-time, or adopting a hybrid work model.

For example, one multinational professional services and real estate investment company leveraged Humanyze to understand how the sudden and unexpected shift to remote work impacted its organization and its people in order to develop a data-driven plan for the eventual return to the physical workplace. The company used Humanyze’s Organizational Health Platform to understand which parts of the organization would benefit from returning to the office and which parts of the organization could remain just as effective while working remotely.

A multinational auto manufacturer also partnered with Humanyze to implement new long-term remote work policies and accelerate their plans to shift to a more flexible work culture, allowing employees to utilize the office when needed while primarily working remotely. The Humanyze Organizational Health Platform™ allowed them to supplement more subjective measurements (like employee surveys) to measure the initial impact of remote work on organizational effectiveness, with a particular focus on employee well-being and effective collaboration. By continuously measuring the impacts of the new flexible work environment on the organization, the company is now able to isolate specific areas for attention and intervene proactively to ensure the long-term success of the transition.

Workplace analytics can help you measure the impact of the return to work – whatever that looks like in your organization – and gain a deeper understanding of the dynamics that are affecting performance. Armed with this data, you can develop a customized return to work policy and adapt readily to the changing needs of your workforce as your organization settles into the “new normal.”

Last Updated 15 April 2021