As we pass the one-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic and remote work, it is astounding to see where we have come from those early days when many of us believed we would be back in the office within a few weeks. For many employees still, they have yet to step foot back in their old office. Remote work has quickly become the new normal.
As more vaccines are administered each day, society comes closer to returning to our old way of life. Or will we? Six months ago, we didn’t know where we would stand by this point in time. Now that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, employees have questions. Do we go back to the office? Do we stay remote? What’re the benefits of each? What’s the plan? You may be sitting there wondering the same questions yourself. Given your role within human resources, it is very likely that you may be brought in to help answer some of these questions.
According to this article published by SHRM, a hybrid work schedule is the most likely next step for companies who have yet to bring their employees back to the office. However, this decision isn’t one to simply jump into without some preparation. In order to transition your team towards a hybrid schedule as seamlessly as possible, we suggest taking these five necessary steps first.
1. Communicate with your team
Before any type of negotiation or signing of leases begins, you need your entire team to be on the same page. This applies to both your leadership team and your team of employees. Communication is going to be crucial here because it would seem as though some companies are already noticing discrepancies with the expectations of their employees.
In the previously mentioned SHRM article, it notes that 55% of the 1,200 employees who participated in the survey responded that they preferred to have three remote days of work with two days in the office. Executives disagreed. Of the 133 executives surveyed, 68% responded that they believed employees should be in the office at least three days a week. If expectations are not managed properly on both sides, your company may find itself in an uncomfortable situation.
There are going to be a lot of factors to consider when determining how many days, if any, employees should be in the office. Before making a decision, it may be best to conduct your own research and survey your team to find what may work best at your company. If you’re currently struggling with internal communication, we recommend reading this article on how to help your employees feel heard.
2. Acquire the proper supplies
Even though many of your employees may possibly be vaccinated by the time your team is ready to introduce a hybrid work schedule, you still want to ensure your company has the proper supplies needed to make your employees feel safe going into the office again. This can include:
- Ensuring the bathrooms are adequately stocked with antibacterial soap
- Having hand sanitizer stations throughout the office
- Supplying your employees with masks and PPE as required by the CDC
While supplying this equipment and monitoring its inventory may not directly be your responsibility, it does need to be taken into consideration when discussing what actions must be taken to ensure employees are safe and feel comfortable at work every day.
3. Have back up plans
If there was one thing that was certain about this pandemic, it was that nothing was certain. The pandemic forced many of us to become adaptable, and I don’t foresee that changing. If you want your employees to return to work in some capacity, you need to have a plan, a backup plan, and a back up to the backup plan. If you fail to plan properly and something goes wrong, you’re going to have a much bigger issue on your hands. Here are some situations you may want to consider when determining different actions to take:
- If COVID-19 numbers rise back up again
- If your building has COVID-19 restrictions (or if your building has no COVID-19 restrictions)
- If a team member tests positive for COVID-19
Even though more and more people are receiving the vaccine every day, there are still a handful of people who may choose not to be vaccinated. There are also still many waiting to get vaccinated. While the end is near, it is not yet safe to say we are out of this pandemic quite yet. With that in mind, your team should still prepare for what the proper steps will be should any unpredictable, COVID-related situations arise. By having backup plans in place, your team can mitigate any risks to the rest of your staff while being able to seamlessly adjust and keep your team moving forward.
4. Be prepared to make accommodations
Despite your best efforts to be prepared and make your employees feel safe, you should not force anyone back into the office who isn’t ready to come back. In fact, you may not even be able to bring certain employees back. Over the last year, many people may have moved away from their office locations, started families, or have their own other personal reasons for being unable to travel into the office. Your team may have hired new employees during the pandemic from other states or even other countries. Physically, mentally, or emotionally, there may be many reasons why your entire team cannot commit to a hybrid work schedule. If this is the case, you’ll want to be able to make accommodations.
Depending on the situation, these accommodations may vary. When making accommodations for employees, it is imperative that your team be understanding. If you have an in-office team meeting every week, have the technology available to call in or video chat with your missing team members. If your employees need a tool or resource that can only be found or used in the office, determine the priority of the assignment and act accordingly. That action can look like assigning the project to a different team member or holding off until the employee is able to make it into the office. If you have team members who are uncomfortable being around other employees, have them go into the office on alternating days with perhaps one other supervisor in attendance.
Again, the situations may vary, but you’ll want to be as flexible and understanding as possible when handling these types of situations.
5. Don’t bring your employees back until the timing is right
As with most things, it can be hard to determine exactly what the “right time” is to bring your team back to the office. We might like to think that the “right time” is whenever each of these steps is complete, but that isn’t necessarily the case. For each company and each team, the right time may be different. It is hard to say with absolute certainty. What we can say with certainty, however, is this: do not bring your team back until you are prepared for what that entails.
If you’ve communicated with your team, made the proper adjustments, and developed your backup plans thoroughly, you’re one giant step closer to transitioning your team towards a hybrid work schedule. While these are our standard recommendations, they may not be the only steps your team or your company must first take. To determine what steps are best for your team, you’ll need to be prepared to have those conversations first.
After a year of remote work, the idea of going back into an office and being able to socialize and get out of the house is an exciting one for many. Even so, it’s important to not rush into a hybrid schedule simply because we are nearing normalcy again. Before you bring your team back to the office, we recommend you at least take these five necessary steps first. If you’re unsure how to approach these topics while still working remotely, read this article and continue checking in on BrandResumes’ HR Corner for more. Good luck!