5 Things to Consider in a Return to Work Plan

As 2021 unfolds, an increasing number of organizations are starting to eye a return to the physical workspace. With that also comes a fair amount of uncertainty. After all, if COVID has taught us anything in all these months, it’s to expect the unexpected. There’s a lot to consider as you’re figuring out the framework you’ll use to bring people back safely, but there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. 

Instead, you need to reach out to your employees, managers, and supervisors to get input that can help you create a plan that’s specific to your business and flexible enough to adapt as conditions change. It also helps to keep these six considerations in mind as you craft a return to work plan that protects employees and helps maintain productivity. 

Who Should Return to the Office First?

Protecting employees should be top of mind while creating a return to work plan. To be successful, you’ll need to be somewhat flexible and willing to consider what employees want. As many businesses have learned, working within the physical office isn’t strictly necessary to be productive. 

It might make the most sense to use a phased approach to bringing employees back to the office. For example, wait to bring employees who are at high risk or those who need the added flexibility of remote work (like parents and caregivers) back later, restricting the initial phase to 25 percent capacity and high-value employees that benefit from being in the office. Alternatively, you could stagger shifts or rotate who comes into the office and who works remotely. 

What Kind of Employee Screenings Should be Implemented?

Recent research reveals that most Americans who traditionally work in an office environment have safety concerns about returning to the physical workspace. That’s why it’s so essential that your return to work plan clearly details what you’re doing to keep them safe. Health screenings are a big piece of that puzzle. 

In addition to encouraging employees who have any symptoms to stay home, you might consider conducting daily health checks, either in-person or virtually. Virtual health screenings rely on individuals to self-screen while in-person checks should be conducted as employees come into the office. Health screenings should check for the following factors:

  • Any COVID-19 symptoms
  • A fever above 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Are they waiting on the results of a COVID test?
  • Have they come in contact with someone with COVID within the past 14 days?

You need to coordinate a consistent plan to reduce the risk of transmission. Your plan should also outline a clear process for employees who start having symptoms or have a family member who is sick. 

Define the Role of the Office

The pandemic has been a revelation in many ways. Many businesses that never thought they’d be able to sustain a remote work model have successfully navigated their way forward doing just that. Although many experts predict that there will always be a need for a physical office, the way you use it may change. And now that more organizations are starting to eye a return to work, there’s also a question: What should the role of the office be going forward? The answer to that question might be very different than it would have been back in 2019 or earlier. 

COVID has also shown us that agility is necessary to ride the wave of future disruptions. That mindset should factor into your future planning, and what better time to look forward than now? While you’re defining the role of the office, take the opportunity to build flexibility into your plans. The office of tomorrow is one that can easily change to match your changing needs and goals, which is where CORT Furniture as a Service™ shines. This unique option gives you enormous flexibility with very little risk for an office that’s better prepared for the future. 

Create a Plan for Workplace Safety and Sanitization

Leaning on local and federal guidelines is a solid starting point for creating a return to work plan that helps keep you, your employees, and your clients safer. It’s also a good idea to check in with employees to gauge their expectations. Social distancing may require that desks be moved or reconfigured. It may also limit the number of employees that can be in the elevator or breakroom at any given time. Your return to work plan should clearly outline the steps that you’re taking. For example, what changes are you making to allow for proper distancing? Are you switching to scheduled times in the breakroom or one-way hallways? 

Beyond spacing, you also need to address sanitization of the workspace. High-touch areas like doorknobs and countertops should be frequently sanitized or swapped out for touchless options. Other things to consider include:

  • Should you make masks, gloves, or other personal protective gear available to employees?
  • Should you set up hand sanitizing stations or have one at each entry/exit?
  • How will you handle things if someone becomes ill? Having clear steps that everyone should take will alleviate confusion.

This is also a compelling reason to adopt some of the latest technology that can help you assess safety now and make better, data-driven decisions in the future. For example, the sensors and data reporting offered by 4SITE can make contact tracing easier. It also allows you to easily see how your square footage is being used for a strong foundation to use while creating your blueprint for the return to work plan and plans for the future of your office footprint.

Institute Consistent Communications

Since the pandemic began, uncertainty has been nearly constant for businesses and their employees. The return to work phase is no exception. Providing clear and consistent communication is essential to providing stability, soothing rattled nerves, and paving the way forward. Employees are counting on their employers to give them the information they need.

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report on COVID-19, employers are the most trusted source of information. This 10-country study revealed that “my employer” was trusted more than the media, with 63% of participants citing employer communications as the most credible COVID information source. That underscores just how important consistent communications are. Some tips to seamlessly integrate communications into the workspace include the following: 

  • Create a team or a point person to provide regular updates. 
  • Consider holding virtual “town halls” to get employee feedback and share important information.
  • Be transparent about any updates, and give employees the reasoning behind decisions when possible.
  • Ask for feedback to remain sensitive to employee needs as you create the return to work plan and to empower employees going forward basis.

No matter if you’re reevaluating your office space, seeking on-demand furniture solutions to better meet your return to work needs, or looking for a resource to help you strategize, CORT is here to help. Visit CORT Furniture Rental to learn more about how we can ease the transition while helping you work smarter and safer. 

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