Is it too soon to go back to the office?

Jul 8, 2021
min read

Things are finally looking up for Ontario and the rest of Canada, and HR leaders are eager to get employees back together in person. But just because some businesses are pushing to return to the office faster than others, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have a good plan in place. Whatever things look like for you and your team, here is a checklist of what you’ll need to consider to make that potential transition as seamless as possible: 

Create a strategy

Innovative strategies will be pivotal in flattening the curve as we return to some sense of normalcy. This means working closely with your senior leaders and management to ensure there aren’t any holes in your back to office plan. 

Offer a flexible timeline 

Just as there was a transition period when getting everyone set up virtually, it’ll take some time before we’re back to huddles and in-person coffee chats. While you should consider headcount to abide by safety protocols, it’s important to recognize and acknowledge the personal and mental challenges your team might face.

Try doing a test run, where the office is open sooner for consenting employees. We’ll be trying this out ourselves at Humi as we work towards getting everyone together in person again. 

Consider the hybrid model

A recent survey conducted by the flexible workspace provider International Workplace Group found that two-thirds (66%) of Canadian workers would want to split their time working remotely and in the workplace.

We’ve discovered new ways of working and connecting over the last year, and if your employees are able to be productive remotely for the majority of the work week, it’s worth exploring the hybrid option. However, in solidifying your plan, it’s just as essential to evaluate and determine the way you and your team work. Will everyone need to be in the office 50% of the time? Are there exceptions? Read this blog where we cover this in more detail.

Communicate your expectations on vaccines 

Will you mandate a policy requiring your team to be vaccinated to enter the office? The COVID-19 vaccine is currently not mandatory for employees in Ontario. It’s also important to consider why some of your team members may not be vaccinated, like having a disability or holding certain religious beliefs. 

For more information, check out our recent blog where we spoke with employment lawyer and Partner at Shields O'Donnell MacKillop LLP, Hendrik Nieuwland, about vaccinations in Ontario workplaces.

Make leave policies known 

Regardless of how well you enforce and follow safety measures, the fear of testing positive for COVID-19 is a valid concern among employees. It can also cause stress if they don’t feel they have the support to recover, if they do test positive.

The ESA currently provides for two infectious disease emergency leaves relating to COVID-19 in Ontario. However, all employers should update their sick leave policy and clearly identify what their employees qualify for to put these worries at ease. 

Create and communicate a crisis mitigation plan

While returning to the workplace is something to celebrate, employers must prepare for the worst. HR and senior leadership should work together to determine what happens if an outbreak occurs, especially if you work in a public office where there are an abundance of shared spaces.

How will you handle a situation where a hostile employee or civilian enters your workplace and refuses to wear personal protective equipment (PPE)? Will rapid testing be required? What happens if your office or building has an outbreak? Who will be responsible for communicating with employees and what will be your messaging? 

Employees look to senior leadership during a crisis, and poor communication can only worsen an already dire situation. So, ensure you’re putting just as much thought into dealing with a crisis as you are preventing one. 

Make sure employees feel heard 

HR leaders emerged as mental health advocates during the pandemic, and it's important to maintain that same energy, especially throughout this transition and beyond. 

Address anxieties

According to Evoy’s Return to the Workplace Report, a majority (66%) of employees say they are worried about their health and safety in returning to the workplace and concerns are heightened for racialized workers (78%). 

HR leaders should not only be aware of these patterns – they should also do their own research within their team. Your employees have gone through a lot this year, and feelings of isolation and burnout may very well still be present. 

It’s important to prepare resources for your people leaders so they have the tools to provide support and navigate workplace discussions around these anxieties. Join us on July 29th at 1 PM EDT for our webinar with Inkblot Therapy to learn how you and your team can manage your mental health when returning back to the office. 

Facilitate honest feedback

Do your employees even want to go back to the office? While some employees are eager to return to the workplace, others are dreading it. It’s important to facilitate open communication to find out how your people are feeling. 

Distribute surveys and encourage managers to facilitate one-on-ones with their team to gauge their feelings on returning right now, part-time, or not at all. By understanding their concerns, you’ll be able to develop your strategy. 

Create a plan to support off-site workers

Virtual work meant we could hire anyone from just about anywhere, and while the majority of your team may be ready to return to the office, for some, it may not even be an option. 

As in-person meetings and events kick off again, remote and even hybrid workers will likely feel left out. Whether you’ll make sure every meeting room has a camera or alternate between  in-person and virtual events, make sure you have a plan in place to tackle and communicate your expectations. 

Prepare your physical space

Although we’re ready to get back to our desks, the COVID-19 crisis is far from over. Keep up to date on your local occupational health and safety guidelines to ensure your physical space is ready to go and safe for your people. 

Get going with cleaning arrangements

It’s likely your office has been vacant for over a year, so odds are it needs some cleaning. Whether that involves outsourcing a cleaning team or giving your desks some elbow grease, have a plan for getting your space ready upon your team’s return. 

Once you’re up and running, work with your building’s property management to track and schedule cleaning in commonly used areas like bathrooms and elevators. It also could be worth exploring an extra set of eyes to oversee these logistics. At Humi, we’re currently seeking an Office Manager to keep our space in check. 

Set up sanitation stations

Your employees may carry their own hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes; providing sanitation stations in common areas is an extra step to make everyone feel safe.  

Stay organized 

Although social distancing guidelines could ease up in the coming months, safety measures are critical in ensuring comfortability and safety among team members. Will PPE be required? Will desks be six feet apart? Signs like “masks required” and “sanitize hands upon entry,” are key to keeping everyone who steps through your doors in check. 

There’s also a chance that one-way office ‘traffic’ will be the mandatory health and safety standard. This means organizing the flow of movement in the office with arrows on the floor. Again, be sure to actively check in with your local occupational health and safety guidelines in your implementation process. 

It isn’t as much of a question of is it too soon to go back as it is creating the right plan for your people. So, get strategizing, check in with your team and be as transparent as possible to ensure everyone’s safety and wellbeing. 

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