Return to Work: A Guide to Reopening and Recovering Safely
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the world when it first spread in 2020. Businesses, public schools, government buildings, and higher education campuses shuttered as shelter-in-place mandates were ordered. And now, more than two years later, many organizations are adjusting to this “new normal” by preparing to reopen and welcome their employees back.
Employers and stakeholders should take the time to plan a thoughtful and accommodating return to work so that teams feel comfortable and safe. In this article, we’ll discuss best practices and tips for carrying out a successful return to work.
What to consider when reopening workspaces following COVID-19
Though many organizations are reopening and transitioning back to regular work schedules and procedures, keep in mind that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over yet. State and local regulations, as well as federal, are apt to change. Many countries worldwide are in completely different stages of reopening as well.
The uncertainty and frequent changes over the past few years, as well as what’s to come, can cause feelings of stress, dread, and anxiety in employees. Be mindful of this when planning your reopening and recovery strategy.
Now, when reopening your workspace for employees, consider the following:
- New or changed health and safety practices for employees to follow
- Changes to your office space to accommodate distancing
- Contingency plans should case numbers rise and/or shelter-in-place mandates occur
- Communication strategies for keeping employees informed
A 2021 global study by Limeade Institute found that 100% of employees had some anxiety about returning to work. And 77% cited being exposed to COVID-19 as their top source of anxiety, followed by less flexibility at 71%.
Be open-minded when building your reopening plan. Take your employees’ needs into account. Ensure that your plan directly addresses the challenges and changes COVID-19 has caused for the workplace so that you can alleviate your employees’ worries.
Tips for carrying out a successful return to work strategy
Talk to your employees first
The most important thing you can do for your reopening plan is to talk to your team and put their needs first. Be open to their feedback. Understand what really matters to your employees. Ask them what they’d require to feel safe and comfortable in the workplace. You may be surprised at what they say!
If some employees aren’t comfortable voicing their opinion, you may want a communication tool that allows users to share anonymous feedback.
Identify risks and prepare for them with emergency plans
A resurgence in cases may mean that your office has to shut down again. Ready your team for that possibility by outlining possible scenarios and your company’s or organization’s plans for handling them. Consider details such as:
- Remote work policies
- Procedures in case someone may be sick or tests positive for COVID-19; e.g., getting everyone in the office tested, quarantining, shutting down the office temporarily
- Health screenings or testings for employees
- Vaccination requirements
- How you’ll communicate through it all
When your plans are complete, remember to share them with your employees! Make sure they know how to access your plans and where they are. A centralized dashboard can make accessibility and collaboration easier for your entire team.
Clean your office space
Fully clean and disinfect your facility before anyone returns to the office. If your space has been closed for months, don’t forget to check systems like water, heat, and air conditioning. If routine cleaning tasks like pest control or mold and mildew treatments have stopped, schedule those to be done before you reopen.
Redesign your workspace to reduce risk
Your employees may feel more comfortable returning to the office if it’s been redesigned to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus. Space workstations out so that they’re three to six feet apart, if possible. Add plants, shelves, or decorative screens as barriers. Keep windows and doors open when you’re able to increase airflow, and consider adding air purifiers to your office.
Don’t forget common areas like breakrooms, restrooms, and lobbies, too. Allow for social distancing by spreading out seating. Place hand sanitizing stations where you can, and have disposable face masks in case someone forgets theirs.
Rethink your current routine
It’s not just your physical workspace that should be prepared for your return. Why not use this as an opportunity to update or change old procedures and routines, making them healthier and safer? For example, instead of holding meetings in small conference rooms, why not host them outside or as a walking meeting?
Communicate with your team
Let your employees know that you take their physical, mental, and emotional health seriously. Explain all of the changes or updates you’ve implemented and why. Thank your team for coming back, and allow them to ask questions or voice concerns.
Be flexible and take their feedback to heart. If a new protocol isn’t working out, figure out a way to adjust, or replace it with something better. Most importantly, have communication tools like a mass notification system that allows you to connect with your employees.
Bring your team back to the office safely with Rave
Returning to work is easier said than done for both employers and employees. Ensuring employee safety, health, and wellbeing is extremely important when devising a return to work strategy. Consistent communication, a thoughtfully redesigned workspace, and new and improved procedures will not only protect your team — it’ll make them feel more at ease.
If you’re looking for a platform that streamlines and improves communication and collaboration, Rave Mobile Safety can help. One of our most valuable tools, Rave Alert, allows users to send multimodal messages simultaneously, keeping your team informed during an emergency. Rave Collaborate ensures all your key resources are found and makes preparing for the future easier.
That’s not all Rave offers. To learn more about Rave’s solutions for critical communication and collaboration, or to speak to someone about configuring a solutions package that works best for you, schedule a demo today.