How to Support Employees as Offices Reopen

5 min read • Apr 30, 2021 • Derek Miller

As more and more people are being vaccinated across the country, hopes are that life will start to go back to normal—at least some version of normal. 

At the start of April, 30% of the population had received at least 1 dose of the vaccine, with 61 million Americans reaching their full vaccination status. Along with the vaccine rollout is an easement of pandemic restrictions across the US.

If your region is starting to lift restrictions, you might feel inclined to bring employees back into the office. While remote work has proved valuable to many, there are some meetings and projects that are easier to do in person. 

Many small business owners are wondering when and how to bring team members back. This transition from working remotely will be difficult for some employees and should be done with care and consideration. 

The tips below will help you develop a plan for reopening that will instill confidence and encourage your employees to return to the office.

Pay Attention to CDC Guidelines

The CDC continuously issues new guidelines for navigating the pandemic safely. In January 2021, they issued guidelines for employers welcoming employees back to the workplace. These guides are meant to limit potential exposure to COVID-19 while still maintaining a productive workplace. 

Follow the guidelines closely, but also communicate how you are implementing them. Nervous employees who are worried about returning to work can feel more comfortable if they know you are staying on top of CDC best practices. Discuss the safety steps you are taking via company email, signage, and in meetings with team members. 

These guidelines are bound to change as more people become vaccinated. You may be able to ease certain restrictions as case numbers drop and people develop herd immunity

Practice Flexibility

For many employees (and employers), the work from home experiment allowed people to really see whether or not they enjoy working remotely. Some thrived in this situation and enjoyed the remote workspace—others didn’t like the new distractions and are eager to get back to the office.

One study of 1,200 employees across the US by the Martec Group found 1/3 of employees feel trapped when working from home and miss socializing with coworkers. However, there is also a large segment of workers who want to work remotely full-time or want part-time remote options. 

The pandemic called for wide-sweeping, often ham-fisted responses to remote work. However, you have the opportunity to be flexible now. 

Create a few options for your employees who want to work remotely or in person. Then talk to your employees about which options they want. Some workers might be eager to return (and are already fully vaccinated), while others might have immunocompromised family members or small children that they want to continue protecting at home

Bring Your Employees Into the Discussion

Your employees are sensitive to changes in the office. They might notice certain problems—like crowded meetings in conference rooms or close customer interactions—that you don’t pick up. 

These situations are even more pronounced if you work in a traditional office environment where upper management has dedicated offices while lower-level workers have cubicles.

A great way to support your employees in their transition back to work is to simply listen. Take their feedback into consideration and try to understand their pain points. They may have some good ideas for how you can make their workplace safer while creating better customer experiences. 

Lead by Example 

One of the fastest ways to breed resentment within your organization is to have a double standard between the working staff and management. Are your lower-level employees required to work in the office while your senior leadership can stay home? Can your C-suite breeze past temperature checks without stopping? 

As a leader, you set an example for your team. If you walk around maskless or don’t maintain your 6-feet rule, you’re telling your staff that these protocols don’t actually matter. It’s also going to be difficult to enforce guidelines that you don’t follow yourself.

When you create and implement your reopening rules, let your leaders know that your company takes a top-down approach to safety. The actions of your manager can positively—or negatively—impact the whole team. 

Identify Which Precautions You Want to Keep

While people can’t wait to revote some guidelines, other safety precautions might remain even after the pandemic passes. For example, you can keep your hand sanitizer stations up to prevent the spread of other germs during cold and flu season. You can keep on your cleaning crew and budget for routine deep cleans every quarter.

Work with your team to identify which safety standards you want to save even after the pandemic ends. These precautions can prevent the spread of other illnesses and potentially reduce the number of sick days your team members take each year. 

Don’t Rush the Reopening

You may be tempted to completely reopen after the pandemic, but rushing a company reopening can create confusion and frustration within your team. There’s no hurry to bring your team members back to full capacity and in-person operations. Make sure your employees feel safe and comfortable if you want the best work from them.

Derek Miller

Derek Miller is the CMO of Smack Apparel, the content guru at Great.com, and a marketing consultant for small businesses. He specializes in entrepreneurship, small business, and digital marketing, and his work has been featured in sites like Entrepreneur, GoDaddy, Score.org, and StartupCamp.