COVID-19 Lockdown: What will Return to Office look like in the coming weeks?
It seems like we all have our groove going working remotely. We have the technology, communications, metrics and reports, and a work routine, and then we hear: return to the office. What does this mean for how we work, for childcare, for employment, the economy, and does that mean we still need to home school child(ren), cook meals, run to the store when we hear they have toilet paper, and disinfect constantly? How is this all going to happen?
I am sure we are all asking ourselves these questions as we hear, read, and watch about the “reopening.” It would be impossible to tackle all considerations here but let's expand on return to the office (RTO) and the considerations we should start thinking about:
We all need to acknowledge that the fear and concern an employee feels is real. They may have been sheltering in place and not ventured out. They may have family members at risk for COVID-19. They may also have been exposed to a person positive with COVID-19. Or they fear the what-ifs: What if someone in the office becomes sick? What if they become sick?
Employers have a responsibility under the Occupational Safety and Health Act to make sure they provide a safe workplace. But it still may be difficult for an employee psychologically. Review your current policy or set up a new sick policy for employees. Follow the Family First Coronavirus Act. Ensure there is space between workers. Have hand sanitizer and masks available. Create a forum or channel so employees can speak freely about their concerns and offer suggestions that might make them feel safer. Review your EAP with your insurance carriers and have them available for your team as needed.
Working remote vs. working in an office
This may be the biggest decision you may be evaluating. Was working remotely working for you and your business? If it was, can you continue to have remote work, or maybe even work remote 1-2 days per week, while coming to office remaining days? Consider alternate work hours with employees coming in at different times. This would allow a gradual change vs abrupt transition. Additionally, this would keep the number of people in the office lower. Keep in mind which teams would be best served in the office at the same time.
Return of furloughed employees
Be cognizant that if some employees were furloughed and some were not, there may be some resentment or guilt. Review policies relevant to this situation and decide if exceptions may be made due to circumstances. Stay in contact with your teams. Communicate with furloughed team members and coordinate ways to bring teams together. Maybe plan safe team building activities.
Many employees did not take vacations that may have been planned for spring break or maybe will not be able to take planned vacations coming up for summer. Employees may not have been able to go to previously scheduled doctor/dentist appointments. Review options of paid time off to ensure vacation time can be used, carryover time into 2021, or payout vacation time not taken as possible options. Have a plan to allow employees to make up appointments in their schedule. Make sure to note this was an exception versus a change in general policy.
As schools are being canceled for the remainder of this school year, how will this be addressed? This may also be a fear that the employee has, as they worry for their child and exposure to COVID-19. The reopening of offices will be close to the time regular school would be ending, and most parents would have been looking at alternate care for summer. It would be of benefit to be flexible with employees.
The time is coming when we will be returning to a new or “almost normal.” Communications should begin now with your team on how you want to work through various cases and scenarios, and other items related to these unchartered times. Include teams, be open to options, be flexible, and lead with decisions that prioritize the safety and wellbeing of your team.