The Post-pandemic Office Strategy – Do you Have a Plan?
Note for California Employers: Today is the day that California reopens. This means that people who are fully vaccinated can generally go maskless throughout California and that many businesses are opening up to pre-pandemic levels assuming that they have the people and other resources to do so. BUT not so fast…. what isn’t in the headlines is that this does NOT mean that California employers can disregard all of the COVID-19 safety precautions. California employers are still operating under CalOSHA’s COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards which became effective on November 30, 2020. On June 3rd, with the announcements of California’s Reopening plan, the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (Standards Board) voted to adopt proposed revisions to the ETS. On June 9th, the CalOSHA Standards Board voted to withdraw the proposed revisions. On June 11th, Cal/OSHA proposed a revised ETS, which the Board will consider at its June 17 meeting and Governor Newson will bypass the usual 10 day waiting period for implementing the new regulations. So, bottom line, although you can shop at Whole Foods in California without your mask if you are vaccinated, the employees at Whole Foods must continue to wear masks. It’s still a COVID-19 roller coaster. Stay tuned for more.
Fifteen months ago, tens of millions of employees became remote workers overnight, and we all had the same question – “How do we do this?” Now, with restrictions lifting and a return to the office on the horizon, the question is, “How do we go back?”
To answer that, we need to discuss how employers should start a dialogue with employees about returning to work. While some are failing to communicate with employees at all, others are doing so poorly, and employees are taking notice. The good news that even minimal communication from employers about a post-COVID plan leads to boosts in productivity and employee well-being – but a lack thereof increases anxiety and burnout. So how do you make sure your company is on the right track?
STARTING THE CONVERSATION
A good place to start is to distribute an employee survey to gauge employee’s thoughts and feelings on the topic. Another option is to schedule one-on-ones and check in personally with each member or your team. No matter what you choose to do, you’ll want to start the conversation well in advance of your projected return-to-office date. This year has been difficult for most, and we want to give the people we care about the gift of time to prepare for this transition mentally and emotionally, but also practically.
If you have any young people in your life, you might have seen just how difficult such a transition can be as students made their way back to in-person instruction. I know more than just a handful of kids, from toddlers to teenagers, who broke down crying trying to pick this back up again – we can almost guarantee, even if we don’t see it, that people will be struggling. For some, this will be the first time in over a year they have to plan around childcare and commuting. Others will need time to find their work clothes. Whatever it may be, it will require planning and re-forming habits, and employers need to have realistic expectations surrounding the adjustment.
I returned from remote work just two weeks ago and realized first-hand how hard it was to make the switch to getting dressed, making breakfast, walking my animals, packing lunches, etc. all before 7:30am; my morning routine is now anything but routine. We can make this transition successful and mitigate undue stress, but we need to be thoughtful and prepared.
If you create a survey, introduce it by letting employees know you’re thinking about what it means to come back to the office, and include questions to gauge some of the following:
· How successful do employees feel they have been while working remotely?
· What are challenges they have faced from home?
· What are barriers and challenges to returning to the office?
· What do they feel is a reasonable timeline?
· What are their expectations surrounding remote work benefits in the long-term?
MAKE A PLAN
Once you understand how your employees are thinking and feeling about coming back to work, and have identified your potential challenges, you can leverage that information to devise a balanced strategy.
Management will need to think from a strategic level, and should consider some of the following:
· Do we need employees to be coming into the office?
· How does this expectation change based on an employee’s job description?
· What are the benefits versus the risks?
· How does remote work impact productivity or our bottom line?
· How do we maintain relationships and preserve company culture?
Maybe you are looking to incorporate a hybrid model. Maybe it’s feasible and more affordable to stay 100% remote. Or maybe long-term remote work isn’t a reality for your industry. How do you make exceptions for some employees but not others? There is a lot to consider when figuring out the right when and how for your company’s unique needs, but being equipped with the right information will prepare you to make these crucial decisions in a way that supports what employees want while also factoring in the needs of the company.
After you’ve decided on when to return to the office and what it will look like once you’re there, you’ll need to consider how to do so safely.
OSHA Guidelines on COVID prevention are ever changing, and you’ll want to make sure that you’re in compliance with everything from ventilation to PPE to vaccination status reporting. To make things a bit trickier, regulations vary from state to state; if you’re in California or Virginia, companies are required to have a COVID Prevention Plan but, even if your state doesn’t require it, having a prevention plan is a great way to protect your employees and your company in the case of work related COVID incidents down the line. As badly as many of us want this to be over, until that’s a reality, COVID safety will continue to be a critical part of the work environment and a necessary responsibility for company leaders.
If your company needs support developing a post-pandemic plan, The HR Manager is here to assist with return-to-work surveys, policy changes, COVID Prevention Plans, and more. Don’t know what you need? We will be happy to conduct an assessment and make recommendations specific to your company’s needs. Reach out and setup a meeting with a consultant today.