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Making the switch back again: working in the office after COVID

So, what’s next now that the traditional workplace is behind us? 

 As COVID-19 restrictions finally start to ease around Australia, companies and organisations will need to prepare to reopen their businesses. It’s time for business leaders to consider how they want to evolve their workplace to be ready for the future. However, bringing employees back to work is not as simple as flicking a switch.  

Each business will encounter its own unique set of challenges – from reconfiguring hotdesking and meeting spaces, to restarting factories and retail locations.  

Where do you begin? How can you protect your staff? Is there a right way to move forward? 

Here are some considerations that may help you with your preparation: 

1. Making the Workplace Safe 

Upon returning to work after COVID-19, health and safety should be your biggest focus. The first step is ensuring the physical workplace is safe for employees to work in. 
It’s imperative to hire a cleaning service to deep clean the entire office. Their high-grade cleaning solutions will kill more germs than typical products and will find all places bacteria and viruses could be hiding. 

Ensure cleaners disinfect both common areas and individual workspaces too. This is also the perfect opportunity to shampoo carpets and clean air ducts. 

Even if no one has been in your workplace for weeks, a deep clean will put employees’ minds at ease and make the office fresh and sparkling for their return. 
2. Encouraging Good Hygiene 

After cleaning the workplace, it’s important to encourage employees to keep it safe and healthy. How will you ensure the health and safety of your workforce? Things to consider include: 

  • Monitoring and maintaining proper social distancing guidelines. 
  • Establishing stringent cleaning and sanitation protocols for desks, meeting rooms, bathrooms, end-of-trip facilities and shared kitchen spaces. 
  • Ensuring your staff are provided with the facilities and personal protective equipment (PPE) to maintain personal hygiene, such as face masks, gloves, alcohol wipes, handwashing stations and hand sanitisers.   

  • Having a risk management process that factors in contact tracing, travel policy reviews and tracking of employee compliance with health regulations.  

  • Having a contingency plan should there be another spike in COVID-19 cases. 

3. Updating Existing Policies and Procedures  

The coronavirus pandemic has forever changed the way every industry does business. As a result, you’ll need to take a look at your current policies and procedures and update them to fit current best practices. 

Remember to update your sick leave policy to include information about COVID-19. Do employees get extra days off if they test positive for the coronavirus? If so, how many? Are you offering leave for employees who live with or care for an infected person? 

Also consider policy changes such as indefinite remote work for employees who can do it and more flexible attendance and paid time off. 

Change your policies about holding meetings – having too many people into a conference room doesn’t comply with social distancing and may make some employees uneasy. 

Ask employees to only fill meeting rooms up to half capacity and to hold larger meetings over video conference.  

If possible, consider also changing the layout of the office to give each employee more space. Rearranging work stations to separate them can help reduce the spread of germs.  

 4. Supporting Employees’ Mental Health 

Understanding the new situations your people face as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic should be taken just as seriously as business-related considerations. These include: 

  • Stress and anxiety for people who may not yet feel comfortable or safe returning to work. 
  • Alternative transport methods for staff who rely on public transport. 
  • Reviewing expectations around productivity as a result of frequent cleaning of workspaces, hand-washing breaks and other safety protocols. 
  • Ways to further support remote working for those who need it. 
  • 5. Restoring Productivity 

After a few months of working remotely, employees have likely fallen into a home office routine. However, going back to commuting, earlier alarms and having less flexible work hours might feel jarring. 

Dealing with reluctance to give up remote working will be one of the biggest challenges for HR teams. To ease the transition: 

  • Be flexible with work hours for the first few weeks 
  • Provide employees with a list of productivity resources to get them back to their routine 
  • If their job allows it, let employees work remotely for longer 
  • Offer to add a few remote work days each week to an employee’s contract 

A major goal of returning to work after COVID-19 is to get employees back to work with as little interruption as possible. To accomplish this, make the office feel as normal as possible. 

For example, ensure employees have all the equipment and supplies they’ll need to get right to work on their first day back. Also, take inventory of equipment coming back into the office, such as laptops, monitors, chairs, docking stations and headsets.  
6. Encourage Social Interaction 

After so much time apart, socialising can go one of two ways for employees. Some might feel awkward, like they’re meeting their coworkers for the first time all over again. Others might have missed their colleagues so much that they’ll risk their health and productivity to catch up. 

While employees may have connected via online platforms during the remote work period, they may hesitate to keep it up once they return to the office. 

Give them time to settle back in again and just like a first day at school, every person is different and will find their social feet in their own time.  

Finally, IT issues may suddenly arise on everyone’s first day back, even if you have prepared your office as well as possible! This is perfectly normal given the volume of activity has now switched back to being onsite again. However, if you need to check that your current systems are all up-to-date and capable of handling the next phase of our working lives, we are here on 1300 765 014.