Maybe the time is finally approaching to reopen the office after lockdown. I can almost smell the whiteboard markers.
But it’s not as simple as just telling everyone you’ll see them on Monday at 9am.
There’s some thinking we need to do first.
5 tips to help reopen the office
1. Don’t rush
Although it may feel like we’re just waiting for the magical date that reopening begins, the government’s advice is that everyone should still work from home as far as possible for a good while yet.
The earlier you reopen the office, the more issues you’ll face. The longer you wait, the more people will have been vaccinated, the lower transmission will be and the fewer restrictions we’ll have.
There’s also prep to be done to make sure you’re following the government’s rules for workplaces. If this is the first time people will be returning, you’ll need to conduct a Covid risk assessment and make any adjustments necessary.
The return needs to be safe, but people also need to feel safe – so letting everyone know you’re doing these things is important.
2. Phase the return
Two reasons: mental wellbeing and physical wellbeing.
People have potentially been at home for months – even a year. We’ll all need a phase of adjustment, like starting a child at school. Mentally, it will be extremely tiring and overwhelming, even for the most outgoing of us.
Physically, our immune systems are going to take a hit. Most people have experienced the first cold-free year of their lives, as masks and distancing have suppressed transmission of more than Covid. Immediately chucking 40 adults back into an air-conditioned office all at once? Bad move.
A couple of days a week, with teams spread across different days, will limit the level of exposure at the beginning so we can ease back in.
3. Take the opportunity to change
Returning to ‘normal’ is a waste of what we’ve gone through. Most of us have had a change of perspective in light of losses, upheaval and anxiety. Use that to go into post-lockdown work with a different approach.
Maybe you never go back to full-time everyone-in mode. We’ve proved remote working is efficient, fulfilling and practical. If your team members like it, consider a blend of homeworking and office-based meetings, or even just face-to-face contact for social events.
In-person is important for integrating new starters and maintaining morale, but nearly everything else can be handled remotely.
4. Listen to your team
Some people will be beside themselves with excitement at the thought of returning to the office; others will be full of anxiety.
If you’re one of the lucky businesses that adapted easily to remote working, ask your team for their thoughts on how things should be in the future. You can then settle on what works for most people, with enough flexibility built in that everyone feels comfortable.
This approach will keep your team happy, help with recruitment and potentially even save money if you don’t need as much office space or you’re only using the office on certain days.
5. Make it attractive
Your team needs to WANT to go back to the office, or there’ll be bad vibes all around. Listening to their ideas and actioning what you can is great but think about how else you can mark the occasion and make it positive.
It’ll be spring or even summer, so use any outdoor space you have or find another venue that can handle groups safely. You may not be able to get the whole business together at once but having an – ugh – team building day feels not only nice but necessary.
As employers, we may think our people have it lucky because they still have a job, during a pandemic. However, given the amount of change everyone’s been through, leaving a steady job is not as far-out as you might think.
If your business doesn’t offer an attractive return to work, plenty of other companies will.
Slow and steady, with happy staff. Hopefully, this is the beginning of getting back to normal – but better.