Reopening the Office: What to Consider and How to Move Forward in a Time of Uncertainty

As businesses make plans to reopen their offices, and the “new normal” after COVID-19 takes shape, there are essential factors to consider. Office layout and location, employee headcount, and most importantly, how it will affect the health, safety, and well-being of staff are all aspects to be reviewed.

Employers will need to take a step back before making a strategic plan to move forward safely and effectively when considering strategies for reopening. Every company will have its own set of unique variables and challenges to overcome. Keep the following top-of-mind when reopening the office after the restrictions of the pandemic are eased:

The Office

The first step to reopening the office may include changing the office layout and disinfecting to create a safer environment. Employers can utilize offices, conference rooms, the break room, or any available real estate to set up work stations instead of an open floor plan. Whether you have 10 or 100 employees, you may wish to:

  • Evaluate the schedule: stagger where and when each person will work onsite. Consider having specific teams come on certain days or base when employees come in, solely on where their desks are.
  • Reorganize: move employees desks and reconfigure each person’s workspace with social distancing in mind.
  • Create a safe space: stock up on cleaning products, provide multiple places for employees to wash their hands and have masks on hand. Add signs or mark the floor to alleviate stress and showcase appropriate social distances, similar to the Six Feet Office, developed by global commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield.
  • Be mindful of commuters: Analyze where the staff is commuting from and be flexible and accommodating if employees are looking to limit their exposure to public transportation.

Working Remotely

We are consistently hearing, from the vast majority of our clients, that they will likely maintain some level of remote flexibility for staff. Many companies have seen success in productivity, sales, and other key metrics while the team has been remote. For staff members who are not client-facing, do not require the technology the office has to offer, and do not need business materials located physically in the office, employers can consider if staff can continue to work remotely. The team will be anxiously awaiting the new work from home policy, including whether they can work from home permanently or alter their schedule to include a combination of in-office and remote work. We have also seen these questions coming up in the recruiting process for new employees. Your remote work plan will become part of your employer brand and will impact your ability to attract top talent.

Communication with Staff

Now more than ever, employees will be looking to management for guidance, reassurance, and specific guidelines on how the company is moving forward. Employers could select a staff member to take the lead and be the point person on pandemic related changes. Communicating when the office will open, who will be where and when, and the plans to keep the office clean and the staff healthy, will be extremely vital to share.

It will also be necessary to reiterate the sick day or medial leave policies and strongly remind employees that if they are not feeling well, they are encouraged to stay home. For some businesses, checking in with employees on how they are feeling and if they have a fever or other symptoms will be part of the new normal, as long as they are mindful of ADA regulations.

Laying out the guidelines for business travel, conferences, and meetings, so employees know what expectations there are for the months or even year to come will also be of utmost importance. Employers will also want to take in to account the company culture and staying social while continuing to social distance for those still working remotely.

Just because the office doors are open does not mean employees will be ready to return. By being considerate of how opening the office will affect staff and communicating what is happening, everyone will return to the office or continue working remotely confidently, allowing the business to continue to operate efficiently. Adaptability and flexibility with staff, as everyone navigates the new ways of working, will help ease the transition.

It may also be best not to open immediately, even though other local businesses are doing so. Many HireMinds clients are staying cautious and considering waiting until after Labor Day to open the office while other employers may choose to open as soon as possible, but will make coming into the office voluntarily.

No matter what path employers take, pay close attention to local government regulations and the CDC guidelines. Using the CDC’s Workplace Decision Tool, employers can further explore when they should consider opening. Additionally, market research company Forrester has developed two sets of pandemic management protocols to assist businesses in making their plans.


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