As teams return to the physical workplace, it’s critical that businesses have a plan in place. A thoughtful return to office plan that puts employee safety first will ensure the transition is a smooth one.
Below we’ll outline some key considerations for returning to work, including how to prepare your team, ideas for an office return to work plan, and a return to work checklist.
This article is not intended as legal or medical advice. Each state has different COVID-19 rules and regulations for returning to work, so be sure to look up your own state’s guidelines. Use the advice below as a starting point for creating your own office plan that meets the criteria for your business, industry, and location.
How to Prepare Your Office to Return to Work
Be Honest and Transparent
As you prepare to return to work and continue to navigate these unprecedented times, be transparent with your team. Be open and honest with everyone about what’s going on with the business and what to expect.
There’s no point in keeping secrets—that will just breed rumors, suspicion, and negativity. People are going to talk either way, so it’s best to be straightforward about the situation. For big announcements, make sure you tell everyone at the same time so that no one feels out of the loop or hears about an important update from a colleague instead of management.
Honesty is the best policy. Plus, you’re going to need to depend on the same openness from your team, especially concerning their health. Transparency will encourage everyone to work together on health and safety measures for a safe return to the workplace.
📚 Learn how to build Transparent Communication in the Workplace.
Provide Frequent Updates
Updates should be thorough and frequent. Provide regular updates so that everyone knows what’s going on. Even if you don’t know exactly when you’re returning to the office or what the situation will be, inform your team of that. Hearing that you are unsure is better than hearing nothing at all.
Failing to regularly update your team is another sure-fire way to allow rumors to spread. It doesn't take much. A simple weekly email summary or update during an all-hands meeting will keep everyone informed and included.
Prioritize Health and Safety
While we all wish everything would get back to normal, there are critical health and safety measures that must be prioritized. Just because you’re allowed to go back to work doesn’t mean the same old rules apply.
Ensure your business prioritizes health and safety measures for the wellbeing of your team and community. Don't delay implementing safety protocols. As a business owner or manager, you have a responsibility to ensure the safety of your team. Make health and safety measures a key role in your return to work strategy.
Create a Return to Office Plan
Taking the time to create a detailed plan will help everyone return to the office smoothly. Whether management is tasked with planning, you establish a return to work task force, or you hire a coordinator, a clear plan is essential.
Give yourself as much advance notice as possible so that no one is scrambling to pull together processes and safety measures at the last minute. Ask both the tough and the simple questions in advance to prevent confusion, conflict, and health risks when you return. Consider high-level coordination as well as granular details, like where to store masks and how employees will submit self-screening assessments.
What to Include in a Return to Office Plan
How will you ensure everyone who enters your workplace is healthy? While you can’t completely prevent the virus or any illness from spreading, you can make sure everyone completes a screening assessment, so health is always top-of-mind.
Make decisions about your screening procedures and get them in writing so everyone understands what’s expected. Outline criteria for returning to work (no fever, no symptoms, no international travel, no contact with someone who is sick, etc.) and what the next steps are if these qualifications are not met.
Will your team be required to fill out a self-assessment every day before entering the workplace? Will you have guests complete a self-assessment before entering your office? Will you have someone in charge of screening people before they enter? How will people access these assessments? How do you want them submitted?
Call in Sick Guidelines
Create a detailed set of guidelines for how employees call in sick. For your team’s safety, you need to make it abundantly clear to everyone that no one should try to come into work if they or someone they live with are sick or suspect they might be.
Whether it’s COVID-19 or flu season, it’s not worth the risk. It’s far better to pay for a few sick days than to have an outbreak spread throughout your workplace.
How should employees call in sick or request sick leave? Who should they report to, and what are the protocols? Will they be able to work from home if they are well enough to work but could be contagious?
📝 Use our free downloadable Time Off and Sick Leave Request Forms.
Mask Protocols 😷
The CDC recommends that face coverings be worn in public settings and other places where social distancing is hard to maintain until COVID-19 is no longer a threat.
Your return to office plan should include a clear face mask policy with details about what’s expected, as well as what the consequences are for not following company protocols. Create clear guidelines around the type of mask required and when they need to be worn.
Your team will have a lot of questions. Answer these in advance to avoid confusion and wasted time when returning. Will your workplace provide masks? What happens if someone refuses to wear a mask? Will you provide masks for office visitors? Where will masks be stored? What happens at lunch?
If necessary, have your mask policy looked at by a legal team and ask each of your employees to sign a document stating they agree to your policies.
📚 Read our Guide to Wearing Face Masks in the Workplace.
Hand Washing Stations
Hand washing is important regardless of whether or not we’re fighting a pandemic. Washing your hands regularly reduces the spread of viruses and bacteria, which keeps your workplace clean, and your employees healthy.
Germs can get on our hands after touching a contaminated object that was coughed or sneezed on. Without regular hand washing, these germs can be passed on to others, who then pass them on to more people. How many surfaces or objects do you, your coworkers, and your children touch in a single day? How many times do you touch your face in a day? How many times do you touch your phone without washing your hands first?
Hand washing is simple, cheap, and effective. Ensure you have clear stations set up for hand washing and sanitizing. Use signage and company policy to ensure everyone washes their hands frequently.
Invest in Ventilation and Air Flow
Research and case studies show how COVID-19 can spread indoors without natural or mechanical air flow. While masks do a lot to prevent the spread of viruses, they’re not enough to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 when people spend a prolonged amount of time together indoors.
Prioritize ventilation in your workplace to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Invest in air purification systemsand use natural outdoor air flow as much as possible.
Preparing Office for Return to Work Checklist
To get started, use our return to office plan template. Read our list below or download our free printable checklist.
✅ Create a plan for informing your team
✅ Establish screening procedures
✅ Establish next steps if screening qualifications are not met
✅ Develop a plan for managing office guests
✅ Create guidelines around when and how to call in sick
✅ Ensure work from home options are available if needed
✅ Create mask wearing protocols
✅ Have employees sign and agree to a mask protocols document
✅ Purchase extra masks for the workplace
✅ Set up hand washing stations
✅ Post hand washing signage
✅ Look into building ventilation capabilities
✅ If necessary, invest in air purification
✅ Ensure outdoor windows and doors are open when possible
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