How to Help Employees Feel Comfortable Returning To The Office

Workers back to work

Aug 11, 2021

As COVID cases decrease in the U.S. and vaccinations increase, companies across the nation have brought their employees back to office buildings. Many of these workers have concerns regarding the safety of shared spaces as restrictions are lifted and viral variants spread. They also wonder about details such as if businesses can require all employees to be vaccinated, and what office and building features help to minimize risk.

Just as it was necessary as entire teams grappled with becoming remote employees and many other complex realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, finding ways to help employees feel comfortable after returning to the office is paramount to a successful transition. Here are a few vital considerations that employers will need to address as they experience these transitions.

Start by listening.

Employers can start with one critical step to ensure that employees feel as secure as possible when returning to the office: they can listen. Hearing what is most fitting to employees as they navigate the continued impact of the COVID-19 crisis—both in the context of both their professional and personal lives—can help employers make decisions that will resonate with everyone and ultimately make transitions more successful.

This isn’t just a good idea. It is a strategy backed by neuroscience. In a recent interview with SHRM Online, Victoria Grady, faculty at George Mason University School of Business, she explains how giving employees a sense of agency can make it easier to adapt to change.

“If you give people the ability to have input, buy-in, and power over the change, they tend to embrace that change with a lot more willingness and commitment than those without that input,” explains Grady. “In organizations, this could look like giving employees a choice of where and how to work.”

Create a safe office environment.

Developing a plan of action to address employee concerns around safety can go a long way to make employees more at ease with reporting to an office space. Before COVID, many employers offered in-office “perks” like fully-stocked kitchens, open floor plans, game-quipped break rooms, and free yoga classes. While these features were meant to make the office feel more social and appealing, they may feel a little unimportant, if not unsafe, in light of today’s realities. 

A few ways to update the office to minimize the spread of COVID and general transmission of germs and viruses:

  • Adjust how and how often you clean your office. For example, you may require cleaners to use antibacterial cleaners on all surfaces, schedule carpet cleanings more frequently, or take extra measures to disinfect high-traffic areas and bathrooms often.
  • Keep preventative safety supplies like masks, sanitizers, and wipes readily available to employees.
  • Clean or update your HVAC system, make sure filters and ducts are frequently cleaned, or consider investing in HEPA air filtration systems.
  • Though it may be at odds with previously trendy communal workspaces, reconfiguring the office to ensure that desks and seating conducive to social distancing can reassure employees that you're taking their health seriously, and help prevent the unnecessary spread of viruses.
  • Minimize external or client visits as much as possible.
  • Create a system for employees to share their health or vaccination status. This can make transmission preventable and traceable. 

Offer convenience and connection.

Beyond general safety precautions, make sure employees can fully reap some of the personal and practical benefits of returning to the office.

  • Focus on creating opportunities for teams to increase engagement levels, share information and ideas, and build a strong office culture. This might mean starting special interest groups or creating opportunities for employees to share more about themselves. (Check out more tips here.)
  • Save time instead of wasting time. One drawback of remote work is that there’s usually more technology and equipment available in the office, often making it easier to get specific tasks done more efficiently. Therefore, make sure that office technology, software, and equipment, such as computers, printers, and copiers, are updated and well-supported to appreciate the convenience of working on office premises.

Provide intentional employee accommodations and benefits.

So many of us continue to face challenging situations and changes—both at work and home. So, an essential part of making employees more comfortable is to meet them where they are and support them where you can.

  • Consider flexible work arrangements. According to a recent study by Gartner, offering more flexible work options can help employers both attract and retain today’s top talent. While some employees may want to be in the office to create some mental separation between work and home life, other employees might find it less risky or a more productive use of time to commute less often, potentially working on a hybrid team or fully remote schedule. While it is less practical for certain workers to work remotely, employers can also offer flexibility by tailoring a plan to meet employee needs.
  • Mental health also matters. Beyond the dangers of contracting COVID-19 itself, today’s workforce has also coped with unprecedented levels of change, isolation, stress, loss, and grief. Employers can put resources and policies in place to address these challenges and needs. For example, providing professional mental health resources or expanded leave policies, especially for sick, parent, or bereaved employees, can help your teams manage continued changes and avoid employee burnout. 

Milner can help you make a smooth transition.

At the end of the day, it is challenging but not impossible to re-introduce your organization to office life in a way that ensures both organizational and employee success. Having a partner like Milner in your corner can ensure that you have time to build a plan that will work best for your team. To find out how we can support your goals, take an assessment or contact us today. 

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