The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted the way that businesses around the world organize their teams and conduct business. As we emerge from this challenging time, it’s imperative for companies to define new workplace procedures and reassess their previous strategies. With many employees still working from home on a part-time or full-time basis, the concept of the workplace has evolved and the line between work and home is blurred.
The health of an organization has become an urgent priority, both from the perspective of employees’ physical health and safety, as well as the overall effectiveness of the organization itself. Still, many questions remain about what recovery will look like and how the workplace may change in the coming months and years. We often hear the words “new normal” these days and, in so many ways, this is exactly what we are witnessing. In this post, we’ll discuss some tips and best practices that can help companies of all sizes support their employees’ transition back to an office environment as smoothly and as safely as possible.
1. Perform a Comprehensive Risk Assessment
Business continuity plans have been tested during the coronavirus pandemic, and most companies are reviewing and updating their plans. To account for potential workplace disruptions, Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) should be at the center of any risk assessment. Collecting relevant data regarding site security and facility infrastructure is an important step in improving the decision-making process. It’s also important to understand how different teams and groups work best, how physical spaces were utilized pre-COVID, and how things may need to be adjusted post-pandemic in order to optimize the use of physical spaces and offices for your people and your organization’s budget.
Many common areas in buildings, such as bathrooms, break rooms, and conference rooms, should also be reviewed to ensure employee safety. By reviewing health-related best practices and taking a data-driven approach, you can gain a complete understanding of your employees, facilities, and assets. These insights can help you better understand where to locate or co-locate teams in order to maximize effectiveness and drive the necessary collaboration to improve business outcomes. The risk assessment can help you prepare for future contingencies and become more adaptable as an organization.
2. Collect Regular Employee Feedback
After being away from the office for some time, there will certainly be a transition period as employees re-adjust to the workplace. Management and HR professionals should remain vigilant of the work environment and collect regular feedback from employees at all levels. Having regular discussions directly with employees can also help uncover any issues or opportunities for improvement that may have been overlooked.
Analytics and corporate data can powerfully supplement qualitative feedback like surveys to provide a more complete picture of what’s going on in the organization and how it’s affecting employees. Leveraging workforce analytics to assess and optimize workplace performance and productivity in both physical and virtual environments and making data-driven decisions to improve the employee experience can help to support smooth transitions. The future of work requires a more continuous, holistic picture to truly understand where the organization is doing well and identify areas for improvement to keep employees engaged, happy, and productive.
Flexible work arrangements are likely to remain a long-term trend, and it’s crucial to monitor the situation over time and commit to a continuous process of improvement. Gaining a more holistic view of the organization can also help you monitor progress to determine if things are trending in the right direction over time. When used alone, surveys provide a one-time snapshot of how things are doing at a single point in time, while coupling subjective survey data with objective analytics from your corporate data gives you a continuous feel for what’s happening overall.
3. Communicate Important Information
Regular and open communication has always been a hallmark of great management, but it is especially vital now. Maintaining support for videoconferencing technology and virtual meetings will be a necessary part of the process. For some time, it may continue to be difficult to gather in large groups, making it necessary to conduct more frequent, smaller discussions. Supporting these communication needs requires ensuring that the right collaboration tools, such as Slack and Microsoft Teams, as well as practices like your company’s meeting culture are in place to make it as seamless, transparent, and collaborative as possible whether your teams are working remotely, in the office, or a mix of the two. Data can help you better understand communication flow and interaction through different levels, which enables you to identify gaps in the communication process and other challenges early on.
Employees will need regular updates regarding new hygienic guidelines, changes to local or federal regulations, and updated travel expectations for different locations. The return to the office will also likely require updates to training programs and employee onboarding. Training sessions and frequent Q&A meetings give everyone an opportunity to participate in the process and keep everyone on the same page.
4. Define New Procedures & Policies
As employees return to the office, changes in job responsibilities and office procedures may be necessary to improve productivity. The pandemic has inevitably taught us many things about the ways of working and the benefits and challenges of existing policies and practices. Applying these learnings to future policy and procedure changes helps to ensure that people continue to have the necessary flexibility and work-life balance they need. It also helps companies ensure that the right communication structures and processes are in place so that employees can work safely, succeed, and remain effective and engaged no matter where they’re working from. Insights from corporate data can be helpful here, as well.
This will be an excellent opportunity to create new procedures and clarify roles and responsibilities among the team. A company will likely need to update EH&S procedures for PPE and medical testing, and we may also see formal changes to employee benefits and paid-time-off policies. Other policies such as part-time scheduling, maternity and paternity leave, and working from home might also require some updates. By taking the needs of your workforce into account, you can help keep everyone safe and engaged in their roles.
5. Create a Formal Transition Plan
It might be helpful to also create transition plans for the return to the office that are unique to each employee or department. Everyone’s individual needs and work arrangements will be different, and certain offices may need to stagger return dates to prevent overcapacity based on local requirements. Although many employees are already set up for videoconferencing and remote work, it’s important for companies to use qualitative and quantitative data to inform what the best balance of remote work vs. in-person face time should be for their organization overall and for different groups within the organization. Some employees may also have unique medical needs and considerations that may delay their ability to receive a vaccination or return to an office environment.
Deciding when to return to work is a personal decision for each organization and must be well aligned with business priorities and needs as well as the health and safety of your workforce. Business leaders and employees in all roles will need a lot of support as they navigate these new workplace norms and find ways to strengthen their organizations. How we define the workplace in a post-pandemic world is still more a question than an answer, but making data-driven decisions that support both the company and its employees and sharing best practices every step of the way will ensure that your company can weather the storm. There’s plenty of data available to you now and historically that can start to help inform these future decisions and point your company in the right direction, even if uncertainties or questions are still lingering.
When implementing each of these five tips for transitioning back to the office after the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important to inform each of these efforts with a data-driven strategy. Leveraging the latest workplace analytics solutions provides valuable, real-time quantitative data that can inform decision-making, help you establish internal benchmarks, and monitor progress over time, enabling your organization to adapt readily to the needs of your workforce and the organization overall.