How To Safely Return Your Workforce to the Office [Includes Checklist]

Nov 23, 2020
Olga Hout

In March of 2020, the workforce seemed to move from offices to homes overnight. Now organizations worldwide are faced with a challenging dilemma: when and how to safely return their workforce to the office as the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to prevail. Unlike the impact and the duration of a natural disaster or a network outage, a global viral outbreak does not have a definitive timeline that indicates it's safe for businesses to start resuming normal operations.

To adapt to the changes and the new normal, businesses are forced to adapt to bring successful results. Your organization, too, must consider what post-pandemic planning it can do to give employees a safe office to return to.

Recent Insights

Based on the recent survey of 100 executives across the country and various industries, the leaders expect that 88% of their workforce will be back in the office environment by December. Whether this number is close to how things are is hard to say, as the pandemic breaks new records.  

To aid organizations in transition to the new normal, Forrester has created what they call "pandemic management protocols." According to their statement, these recommendations can help bring the workforce back in the office.

Their suggestions are based on the main principle of staggering employee return and continuing social distancing, along with prolonged remote work. We believe that such steps as bringing employees back to work in stages, maintaining restrictions on travel, and encouraging social distancing, along with maintaining robust communication in your department, are crucial to a successful return to office program. 

Review Your Office Space

Before anyone can return to work in your office, you should evaluate the space. Consider how many private offices you have where employees can shut the door for privacy and safety.

If you have an open office, measure the overall space from wall to wall. Then, measure the size of a desk, and see how many can fit in the room with six feet in between.

You can add the number of desks and private offices to figure out how many people can work in your office safely. The number you get can help you start your post-pandemic planning for your office.

Additionally, you can leave every other desk open. While that means fewer people can return to work, it can keep those who return even safer.

Determine Roles to Return

Look at your workforce and make a priority list of roles to bring back and when based on all relevant information driving that decision, such as business needs or budget.

You should also consider who can keep working remotely. That way, you can optimize the number of employees who do return to the office.

Finally, find out if you have any high-risk employees. If there are such people in your company, provide them the option to work from home.

You can also create a return to work plan where some employees come back one week and others the next. That way, you don't have a massive uptick of people returning.

Rotate Work Schedules

The next thing you can do is rotate when employees return to work in the office. If you have many people you want to work in person, consider if everyone needs to be there all week.

Perhaps your customer support team can rotate in-person and remote work throughout the week. You can group people into a few groups and have them come in two or three days per week.

Even one in-person day can help. If your software engineers need access to a specific computer, they can use it to do some of their work. Then, they can focus on other tasks when they have to work from home.

Possible Schedule Rotations

If you have two groups of employees who wish to return to work, you can create two in-person schedules. For example, the first group can work in the office on Mondays and Wednesdays. The other group can do Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Every other week, you can rotate who works in the office on Fridays. Or you can have everyone work from home on that day.

Consider how many employees you want to work in the office. Compare that to how many desks you can have safely. Then, you can come up with a schedule that lets "employees return to work in a staggered fashion."

Use a Return to Work Checklist

Now it's time to set some return to work guidelines for your office. The Agility Recovery team has developed a short yet comprehensive Return to Work checklist your business can follow.

Using a defined checklist will help everyone be aware of what they need to do before their first day back to follow the rules and stay safe.

To give your organizations more flexibility and various options, below are a few different checklists you can create for multiple steps regarding working in person.

Pre-Entrance Steps

Consider if you want employees to follow particular steps before they reach the office. You can have employees get tested for COVID and wait for negative results.

For daily returns after the first time back, you can have employees use a COVID tracking app. You can ask them to use the same app and submit their results before they show up to work.

Then, if someone does have a high risk of having COVID, you can ask them to stay home. You can also have employees answer a short checklist regarding their symptoms and go from there.

Entrance Checklist

When employees do get to the office, you can follow another checklist. You can have someone sit by the door and take employee temperatures as they come in.

While a fever doesn't always occur in COVID patients, it can help to see if someone is sick. Then, you can send sick employees home before they potentially infect others.

You should also have someone make sure employees wear a mask when entering the office. After a while, you won't have to monitor this, but it can remind people first. Then, you can ensure people are wearing face coverings correctly as well.

In the Office

You can also create a checklist for how employees can work safely during the day. If employees have a private office, you can allow them to remove their masks.

The same is true if you have an open office, but people are spaced out far enough. But when employees need to get up from their desks, they should use a mask as they pass by others.

Your checklist for the workday can include these steps, and you can give a copy to each employee. Put the list around common work areas in case people lose the checklist.

Communicate New Guidelines

Once you make a few checklists for various post-pandemic planning stages, you should send those guidelines to your employees. Give everyone a new visual map of the office so that they can see where everyone will be.

You can also include specific actions employees can take to stay safe. In addition to written guidelines, you can also use posters and photos to reinforce the steps. And if your city makes any changes to their recommendations, you should update your staff.

Post Signs Around the Office

Consider posting signs throughout the office. You can use photos of how to wear a mask so that it keeps people safe. Consider making one poster a list of potential COVID symptoms.

You can also post signs in the office bathrooms on how to wash hands thoroughly. Make the posters colorful and easy to see from a ways away.

Posters and visuals may seem overboard, but the more your employees see them, the more they will understand how everyone can return to work safely.

Guideline Changes

If you need to change your guidelines, you should inform your employees as soon as possible. Let your team know when the changes will take effect, and give people a chance to adapt.

The most efficient way to do so is through an emergency notification platform, such as Preparis. Such tools allow you to reach out to all of your workforce at once, no matter their geographical location, device, or department. What makes this platform a tool for communication is that it gives your people an option to reply, letting you know they are safe. There are other software features that can provide a lifeline during an emergency, including preloaded message templates and a knowledge base. 

Whether the changes involve bringing more people back to the office or sending employees home, make the rules clear. Give employees a copy of the guidelines, and let people ask questions. These materials can also be accessed through a central platform. A great example that streamlines the business continuity management process is The Agility Planner that is part of Agility Central.

Stock the Office With Supplies

As people start returning to work after COVID lockdowns, you should consider how to keep your office clean. While you may have a cleaning crew that works in the evenings, employees should have access to supplies.

Whenever someone needs to use a different desk, they should clean it to get rid of any germs. That way, whoever uses it next can do so safely.

Here are a couple of supplies you may want in your office.

Cleaning Supplies

You can have sets of cleaning wipes throughout your office in common areas. Place some wipes near the copier, coffee machine, and in the break room.

Consider putting them near employee desks, especially if you rotate work schedules. Then, employees can clean their work surfaces before and after they work.

Ask employees to monitor the stock of cleaning supplies so that you can order more when your office is running low.

Face Coverings and Other PPE

You may also want to offer face coverings on hand for when employees forget to wear a mask. Set a box of masks near the entrance so that people don't have to walk through the office to get them.

Depending on your type of work, you may want other equipment. If employees work with their hands, you may want to give them gloves.

You may also want to provide individual pop filters for your customer service team. That way, they can share a headset without having to worry about transferring germs.

Follow Local Officials

You can do as much post-pandemic planning as you want, but you should always follow local health officials. If they recommend companies go back to full remote work, you should do that if possible.

And if officials say it's okay for more people to return to work, you can follow that. But be flexible with your plans so that you can follow expert recommendations.

Consider reopening phases and where your city may be in the process. Keep an eye on COVID cases and case trends to prepare for any change in local recommendations.

Watch Case Numbers and Trends

Keep track of or read the news on COVID in your area. Keep up with the news at least once a week and watch for significant changes.

Check the trends for the past couple of weeks to see if cases are going up or down. You can check the numbers for your state, but also pay attention to your city and county.

A quick Google search can show you some basic statistics on COVID in your city. You can also follow local news outlets for more information. If cases are getting worse, you can prepare for a potential shelter in place order.

Be Prepared to Return to Remote Work

If your city does implement a shelter in place order or some other restrictions, be ready to send employees home. Be sure everyone can do their job to some degree from home.

While some employees will be able to work from home more effectively, you have time now. The initial lockdowns came quickly, and companies had a tough time transitioning.

Give yourself and your company a bit of time now. That way, you can be ready for anything that comes your way.

Know How to Return to Work Safely

No matter your industry, you and your employees are probably ready to return to work in your office. However, you should have a detailed plan to keep everyone safe.

You may need to take extra time, but that will be worth making employees more comfortable when they come back.

Does your office need help with post-pandemic planning? Reach out, and one of our experts will help your organization with personalized business continuity planning.