The coronavirus pandemic has led to an abrupt change in the workplace, with 71% of Americans now working from home. A year after the outbreak began, many employers are now asking the question: when will we return to work in the office?
There are many different factors to keep in mind when making the decision to return to the office, including how hard your local community has been hit by the pandemic. Many employers are even considering continuing to work remotely, even after it’s safe to be in the office again.
Choosing how your business will return to in-person work is an important decision. Read on to learn about what factors you should consider before opening up your office doors, to protect your employees and yourself.
How to Decide When to Return to Work
There are several elements to consider before you decide to reopen, and each one will vary depending on your location and business type.
It’s vital to take into account all of these factors to keep both yourself and your employees as safe as possible while working in 2021.
Keep an Eye on Community Spread
Communities have been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic in varied ways. One county might have higher numbers than the neighboring one, and different local governments, cultures, and geography all contribute to those differences.
If you live in a rural area with a small population, you could open your business’s doors much sooner than a similar business in the city.
Stay up-to-date on your local region’s daily coronavirus cases and how many people have been vaccinated. You don’t want to endanger your employees or your community by opening up when it isn’t safe to do so.
Your local government likely has its own recommendations and mandates. But keep in mind that you can choose to keep your office closed even after your community opens up if you feel like you need to stay closed to stay safe.
Consider How Often Work Will Require Your Employees to Be in Contact With the Public
It’s important to keep in mind how often your employees and yourself will be required to come into contact with the general public on a daily basis. Even after opening your office to employees, you can stick to having virtual meetings and appointments.
It’s best to limit your contact with people as much as possible. After returning to work, you should continue to operate with new policies and guidelines to keep your office as safe as can be.
Consider the Demographics of Your Workforce
Another thing that you want to keep in mind is the demographic of your employees. Safety should be the number one priority. If a significant portion of your employees is in a high-risk group, you should proceed with even more caution when it comes to returning to the office.
High-risk groups include people over the age of 65 and those with medical conditions. You could offer older and at-risk employees more opportunities for remote work whenever possible.
Should You Stay Remote Indefinitely?
Remote work was already trending before the pandemic, but coronavirus made it a necessity. Despite initial fears about making the switch to telecommuting, productivity didn’t falter in the face of so much change.
Stanford Business reports that workers who worked from home performed 13% better than they did while in an office.
Mercer, an HR firm, conducted a survey of employers about the changes they’ve noticed since making the switch to remote work. 67% of employers stated that productivity has remained the same since the change. Even better — 26% have reported that productivity has actually increased.
According to that same Mercer survey, 83% of employers want to continue to put in place remote work policies even after the pandemic. Remote work can lead to cost savings for both employers and employees since it cuts down on commuting costs and office space. It also gives your employees a better work-life balance.
It’s worth having the conversation about remaining remote. There’s also the option of switching to a hybrid work model (when employees work remotely for a certain amount of days in a workweek).
A hybrid or fully remote workplace could lessen COVID-19 risk since fewer people would be in contact for extended periods of time. It could also cut costs for both yourself and your employees.
How to Make the Transition Back to the Workplace
If you decide to open up the office doors, it’s vital to have a plan in place. A well-thought-out plan for returning to work in person not only ensures efficiency but can also soothe any fears your employees may have.
Have a Strategy in Place
Have several meetings to strategize how you will open back up. Think about your local community spread and vaccination numbers to help you decide how to soon to open your doors again.
You should also have several policies in place to keep the office clean and safe, such as a mask policy and sanitation guidelines. Offer sick leave if you don’t already—you may be entitled to tax credits under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
You can also screen for symptoms daily, either by having daily temperature checks or giving employees a symptom checklist to use every morning. Consider requiring a negative COVID-19 test from employees returning to work.
Have Open Communication With Employees
Above all, be transparent and open with your employees about returning to work. Communicate with them about the plans and strategies your business will put in place and inform them of any new policies as soon as they’re introduced.
You should also encourage employees to report all symptoms and reassure them that they will not be punished if they must stay home due to illness. Be open to feedback about what safety strategies are working, and be receptive to any safety concerns that may arise.
Coronavirus has completely transformed the workplace, and navigating the return to work can be a complicated process. When it comes down to it, the safety of your customers, clients, and employees is the most important factor to keep in mind.
If you found this article helpful, check out our other blog posts for hiring tips, business advice, and more.