Early last year, the pandemic brought a sudden halt to normal workplace practices. Seen as key places where the virus could spread, offices were shut down and home-working became the norm. Employees had to abandon their routines and adapt to remote work.
The effective rollout of vaccines over recent months has now brought with it, the prospect of a return to the office.
This is a new challenge that office managers and employees will have to plan for and adapt to.
So how do you ensure that the transition runs smoothly?
Most importantly, how do you ensure that employees feel safe when returning to the office?
Be Transparent About the Return
There are a number of different reasons why you might want to get your employees back into the office. Likewise, there are a number of different reasons why employees might be anxious about returning.
The best way to bridge between the concerns of different parties is to be completely honest and transparent about the motivations behind the transition. By stating clearly why you think it is a good idea for employees to return at this moment in time, you will help to get them onboard.
They will see their own individual concerns in light of the broader needs of the organisation as a collective, and buy into the process.
They’ll feel less scared about returning because they see it as an important decision, not only for themselves, but also for their colleagues.
Show Concern for Employee Safety
While explaining the rationale for making the transition back to office-working, you should also express concern for the safety of employees.
Show that you understand that despite the rollout of the vaccine, there are still ongoing dangers.
Relate this back to public advice given by government and medical organisations. In advance of the transition, make it clear that you are doing everything in your power to prepare the office as a safe place to work.
Ask them about their concerns before they return and reassure them with some examples of the kinds of practical decisions you’ve made to support employee safety. Include the new health and safety guidelines in your office using poster frames or roller banners to clearly inform your workforce of the new guidelines.
Partition the Office
One great example of a practical change you can make, is to install office partitions. These are a great tool for making your office a safer and more appealing place for employees to return to.
Firstly, office partitions will help remind employees to remain physically spaced out, ensuring that the office accords with social distancing regulations. Since the pandemic erupted last year, we have seen a number of strategies introduced to encourage social distancing.
You can manage the flow of employees across the office by leading them down and between different partitioned spaces within the room. Space the partitions out fairly narrowly to limit the flow of ‘traffic’ across a given section of the room. You can easily stick arrow signs onto the walls of office-partitions, to signal, in which way employees should walk.
Along with keeping employees physically safe, by helping them to social distance, social distancing screens can give them the perception of safety. The sheer sight of tens, if not hundreds of employees sitting alongside each other in an open office space can be intimidating, particularly for those who feel more vulnerable to COVID.
By partitioning your office space, you will make the office feel less busy. Employees will only be able to see a small number of colleagues from any given angle in the room, because their viewpoint is blocked by the partitions.
This perception of a less-busy office space will help to reduce anxieties, giving employees a greater sense of control.
Provide Hand Washing Stations
Offices are dynamic social spaces, in which it is almost impossible to completely avoid contact with others. There are bound to be scenarios in which employees will touch surfaces like tabletops and cupboard handles that have already been touched by others.
A second infrastructural change that will help to assuage employees’ fears, is to install hand-washing stations such as basins or hand sanitiser dispensers around the office.
Place them in strategic positions where they will provide employees with ample opportunities to cleans their hands throughout the day. You can also provide surface cleaning equipment in meeting rooms, so employees can clean the surfaces in shared spaces after-use, should they want to.
Make sure that you have cleaning protocols setup and schedule regular surface-cleans by cleaning staff.
Once they see the level of thought and detail that has been put into the preparation of the office, the employees will be confident about returning.
Good Luck with the Big Return!
We hope the return to the office goes smoothly and your employees feel comfortable about being back in their old surroundings.
Display Wizard offer a range of social distancing signs, screens and displays to help with your space management. Get in touch today and see how we can help you return to the office safely.