Tips for returning staff back to the workplace

2020 has been a year like no other with the seriousness of the pandemic causing major shutdowns of businesses, employees being stood down, schools being closed and people unable to see loved ones for months.

One of the biggest challenges and in some cases an ‘eye opener’ for businesses was having employees all working from home. For some employees the pandemic has made them realise they can efficiently perform their role easily from home without the hassles of commuting to the office. For others, their home environments haven’t been conducive to working from home and need to return to the office as quickly as possible.

Now with the Victorian Government announcing there will be a staged return to the office, businesses have the challenging task of planning the transition of their employees back to the office.

It’s understandable you may have employees feeling nervous about potentially returning. However, others might be feeling ‘zoomed fatigued,’ missing the social interactions and building relationships with their colleagues and finding it hard to ‘switch’ off from work with it right there in their living room.

The transition needs to be well planned, a gradual process making sure to follow Government capacity and density restrictions and keeping the lines of communication open with employees. Employees will need time to adjust back as the work environment will be very different to when they left it.

Here are four key areas to consider when planning to transition your staff back to the office:

Health and safety

A comprehensive COVID safe plan needs to be in place to prevent any introduction of COVID-19. This needs to include health and safety processes to respond quickly to new outbreaks/infections, protocols to identify and track employees and their contacts if there is a confirmed or suspected case, guidelines for sanitation and physical distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE) required to be worn in the office space, and compliance of Government regulations and requirements. Office layout and maximum capacities for meeting rooms and lunch/breakout rooms will also need to be considered and comply with the Government regulations.

Businesses also need to consider how they will manage visitors to the office and have a process in place for employees returning to the office to provide a confirmation that they are well before entering.

Ways of working

To comply with capacity and density restrictions and to limit in-person interactions, businesses will need to evaluate the actual jobs to identify who needs to be in the office and who can continue to work from home. Businesses may need to consider staggered starting times or split times between remote and office shifts. It’s also important to have adequate systems in place to manage teams who have a mixture of people still working from home and at the office.

Team preferences

Alongside evaluating the actual jobs, businesses need to assess the mental health and wellbeing of individuals, their personal situation, transportation to and from the office and who is most at risk if there was a confirmed case of COVID-19.

Open and transparent communication

It’s important for leaders in the business to make sure they are consistently communicating about workplace changes and allow plenty of time for employees to be prepared to return to the office. Providing opportunities for open communication is vital so you can keep track of how employees are feeling about the changes and they know they can openly express any concerns or fears.

The approach to transitioning your employees will need to be well planned, gradual and there must be some allowance of flexibility as each employee’s circumstances will be different. Communication is the key in making sure everyone understands the health and safety measures and what is expected of them when entering the office.


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