Transitioning Thoughtfully Back into the Workplace

As the coronavirus pandemic reached U.S. borders, businesses in various states were ordered or elected to close their physical workplaces and transition their employees to remote status. Surprisingly, many employers who had resisted or never considered work-from-home structures found that both they and their employees liked the new arrangement. 

Now that they’ve gotten a taste of it, large numbers of people on both ends of the paycheck have given remote options broad support. Some executives foresee themselves embracing this more flexible model going forward, while others are looking forward to bringing workers back to the office (although not all employees are happy about this.)

Some industries, such as IT and digital marketing, are well positioned to continue using a remote model, and you may need to prepare yourself to continue working from home even after the pandemic passes. But others still rely on the in-house workplace structure. The office model isn’t obsolete yet, but in the post-pandemic age, things won’t be exactly the same. 

Businesses will need to think strategically and shrewdly as they reopen. Here are some ways both employers and employees can thoughtfully transition back into the workplace.

Anticipate procedural changes.

All businesses will need to implement procedural changes, including staffing, building capacity rates (i.e. how many customers are allowed in-store), requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE), safety policies, and cleaning practices. Keep in mind, there may be disruptions in the supply chain, so routine tasks may need to be adjusted or placed on pause.

There’s likely to be a lot in flux for some time. CDC guidelines have changed and are continuing to evolve as more people are fully vaccinated, but states and local jurisdictions may have different restrictions that businesses will have to follow, as well.

Before going back to work, learn what your workplace will be doing, and identify what role you’ll play in helping everyone follow the rules. Doing so will help you stay safer and decrease the chance of spreading the virus.

Stay disinfected — and protected.

It’s unknown what the future will bring, so it’s important to maintain whatever safety precautions are required and appropriate for workers and their families. Step one in that process is realizing that you may need to go above and beyond what is required by law. This is especially true for immunocompromised individuals and people with children or other family members who cannot be vaccinated. 

With thousands of germs on the average office phone, keyboard, and mouse, employees would be smart to always bring their own sanitizer into the office as a precaution. These measures, coupled with heightened cleaning and disinfection processes, will go a long way toward preventing the spread of any virus. 

Of course, having disinfectants and hand sanitizer handy will be a good idea even after the pandemic eases. Their benefits go beyond COVID, as the nation saw a sharp drop in flu cases during the pandemic. This means that once the cold season arrives, there will probably be fewer absences and disruptions in productivity, which is a win-win for all.

Expect changes in infrastructure.

Open-space office plans have been popular in the past few years, but in the coronavirus age, that wasn’t as practical or appealing. Businesses will have to rethink spatial arrangements again as they open back up.

Some things will revert back to the way they were before the pandemic, but others may have changed for good. Rotating staff schedules may or may not continue to suit your business’ purposes post-pandemic. And your staff may work better, with fewer distractions, thanks to those temporary partitions (“work walls”) you put up to impede the virus’ spread. 

As mentioned, a higher level of cleanliness and disinfecting will be desirable, regardless of COVID’s level of threat in the future. Many employees will doubtless be wary of returning to an environment where they saw coworkers get sick in the early stages of the pandemic. So keeping them at ease will be important.

Things like office and restroom capacity, soaps, sanitizing, disinfecting, and cleaning, will give them greater confidence in the reopening process, along with implementing as touchless an experience as possible. 

Prepare for changes to your commute.

If you’ve been telecommuting during the pandemic but will be returning to the office, you’ll be on the road more. That means you’ll have to factor the time you need for a traditional commute into your workday.

With vacations also curtailed during the pandemic, your car may have remained parked for longer than usual. So now is the perfect time to take it in for servicing so you don’t break down on the road to work. Get the oil changed, check the battery to be sure it’s charged, check the filters and the brakes, and see if you need a tune-up.

Don’t forget the tires, either. Deflation is a common problem when cars have been sitting in one place for an extended period. Beyond that, look for signs of low tread, uneven wear, cracking, or bulging rubber. All these are potential causes of tire blowouts that might not just make you late to work; they could leave your car severely damaged and inflict serious injury — or worse.

It’s important to be safe on the road as you head back to the office, even if you continue to work remotely some of the time.

Safeguard against pay cuts.

Unfortunately, the pandemic sent millions home without paychecks. While the unemployment rate has since dropped, some of the staffing and pay cuts made during the pandemic will be long-term or even permanent.

If you’re among those who have taken a hit, put yourself on a budget, curb your spending, cut back on expenses where you can, and take steps to manage your credit. Even if you’ve maintained your salary and didn’t experience furloughs or layoffs, it can’t hurt to be proactive and be prepared for a future crisis, even as the present one abates.

The coronavirus pandemic turned life as we know it upside down, both personally and professionally. Going back to work in a “new normal” will certainly involve some adjustments, but careful and deliberate planning will help it go more smoothly for employers and employees alike.  

This blog was written in partnership with Jessica Larson, creator of SolopreneurJournal.com, a resource for anyone interested in pursuing entrepreneurship, working for themselves, and striking the best-possible balance between passions.