The pandemic is not over yet. But thanks to the massive vaccination drive globally, more countries are reopening and businesses resume operations. As organizations are gearing up to welcome their workforce back to the office, HR leaders need to design a set of effective measures to ensure the health and safety of employees.
If your organization is looking to let staff work from the office after a long WFH policy, here are seven strategies to prepare for the move.
1 . Plan Thoroughly
Returning to the office is a rather serious matter amidst the pandemic, so coming up with a thorough comeback plan is mandatory. Refer to your country’s guidelines regarding this matter, as different countries may have different policies. Heads of all departments must be involved in the plan-making process, so they can discuss together what measures to take. Also, the forum is to see if certain roles or departments may not have the urgency to fully return to work from the office.
2 . Start with Hybrid Work
Going back to work from the office does not necessarily mean all employees need to do it at the same time. Although there is an ease of restriction and most employees might have been vaccinated, keep in mind that the risk of being exposed to the virus still exists. Therefore, consider starting with a hybrid work. This means that in a workweek, employees are divided into several teams, working in several different batches – depending on how big the workforce is. Other than preventing crowds, this strategy also helps prevent employees’ ‘office shock’ in the transition from remote working.
3 . Keep All Employees Informed
Let employees know that they will need to return to work from the office with at least a week’s notice. For over two years now, many companies have been working fully or semi-remotely. New habits may have been formed and many employees are likely to be getting into the rhythm of remote work. Your employees may have also moved domiciles since they have been used to being able to work everywhere. Changing this routine by bringing them back into the office without prior notice will almost certainly result in shock. In this case, leaders have to keep an open communication, given some employees might have reasons to feel hesitant to return to the office.
4 . Make Exceptions for At-Risk Employees
Coronavirus can be extremely harmful to particular people. Make exceptions for employees who are elderly, immunocompromised, have respiratory problems, or other health concerns that place them at a higher risk of infection. This also includes employees who live with grandparents, family members, or roommates who are members of these higher-risk populations. People who have a valid, health-related fear of returning to work should not be forced to return. HR leaders should give compassion and understanding by making exceptions for their circumstances.
5 . Strictly Prohibit Symptomatic Employees to Work from the Office
Consider the potential threat from symptomatic employees. Something as ‘simple’ as having a sore throat or mild cough should not be underestimated nowadays, because these could be the first symptoms of the virus. Encourage employees to inform the HR department if they have any kind of symptom and ask them to stay at home until the symptoms disappear. If needed, give them a few days of medical leave and set an appointment for them to get a Covid-19 test.
6 . Restrict Access to Visitors
If your office often had visitors before the pandemic, then it is best to restrict access to visitors now. This does not mean rejecting them completely, as some business visitors or clients should come to the office if deemed necessary. However, you may need to implement an RSVP system for visitors, such as one day notice prior to the appointment. This can include a quick health screening, ensuring that they show no symptoms and/or have been vaccinated. You may be able to fully monitor the health condition of your employees, but not with visitors, so precaution needs to be taken seriously.
7 . Always Maintain Health Protocols
Last but definitely not least, always maintain health protocols in the office. This can be before, during, and after returning to work from the office. Make sure all employees have been vaccinated and if some of them have not or refuse to get jabbed, have an individual talk on how to ensure their safety. If financially possible, you can go extra and get all of your employees a swab test before returning to the office after a long time. You may also do this on a regular basis, like biweekly or monthly, if you want to be more cautious. During the period of working from the office, make sure employees always put their masks on, since indoor areas with air conditioners can make viruses spread faster.
It is good news that the world is on the recovery track, with lowering active cases and a rising rate of vaccination. With businesses allowing their staff to work from the office again, precautionary acts are mandatory. On top of careful measures to ensure safety for employees, HR needs to also prepare an emergency plan in case something goes wrong during the period of working from the office.
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