A Roadmap For Returning To The Office After the Lockdown

After several months at home, some organizations are transitioning back to the office. Unfortunately, it is not going to be as simple as unlocking the door. In the wake of the pandemic, the workplace must be reimagined, and leaders who are ready to transition teams back into the office need an intentional reopening plan.

If you’re contemplating resuming operations in the office setting, here are some tips and best practices to adopt before returning.

1. People

Ensuring that the workplace is safe, healthy, and physically distant is critical to a successful reopening. Employees are right to be concerned about returning to a workplace where safety measures are lax or non-compliant. Once they have returned, you want to ensure they are focused on their work and not preoccupied with safety concerns.

Anticipate Accommodations

It is unrealistic to expect that all employees will be able to return fully to the workplace immediately. Provisions have been made under the AB legislation to accommodate individuals with family obligations and medical concerns. It is important that you establish a process for receiving requests for accommodation and assessing them appropriately.

Consider a gradual, phased approach to reopening.

Some people may be reluctant to return to the workplace. For some, after months of isolation or limited social interaction, being surrounded by the hustle and bustle of a full workplace will also feel awkward and potentially intimidating. Consider a phased reopening to reduce risk, with only a portion of your employees being present at any given time.

  • Hybrid model: Evaluate job categories and determine what functions and/or people will return. Some employees can work in the office, and some can continue to work remotely. These decisions should be based on the nature of the work and, as appropriate, accommodations should be made.
  • Staggered schedule: To keep numbers down, consider staggering start and end times or utilizing shifts. If work hours for employees will be altered, it will be important to work with them, wherever possible, to determine a schedule that also suits them.
  • Alternate schedule: Develop a flexible work schedule that allows employees to rotate and alternate days or weeks at the office and remotely.

Prioritize safety.

Ensure those who are returning have the equipment and supplies they need to safely resume their office activities. Consider providing masks, gloves, individual hand sanitizer, sanitizer stations, and where appropriate plexiglass barriers. Be alert for those who are not complying with safety guidelines. Establish a culture where it is okay to remind one another of safety measures and best practices.

Minimize contact, but stay connected.

Continue to minimize face-to-face contact by encouraging virtual meetings. For those who continue to work out-of-office, confirm that the technology infrastructure will remain in place to support their remote work.

If it’s safe to do so, keep up with workplace rituals. Though your quarterly team event may look a little different over Zoom, it’s essential to keep employees feeling connected and involved, no matter where they are working.

Support a physically and mentally healthy culture.

Have empathy and give employees time to familiarize themselves with working in an office again. Any change can be challenging to navigate, but, during this time, stress and anxiety are heightened. Taking breaks from work is important to productivity and mental health. While holiday plans may have been disrupted, encourage vacation time to prevent burnout, improve work-life balance, and avoid the vacation liability dilemma. Remind employees of benefits available to them to support their physical and mental health.

2. Policies

The world of work has transformed in a matter of months, which means it’s time to review, revise and amend your HR policies.

  • Update sick leave policy to include information on COVID-19.
  • Update meeting policies, taking into consideration physical distancing rules.
  • Update remote work policies to reflect the current circumstance. Brush off and update your work from home policy. This will be based on lessons learned over the past four months, and it is possible we may need it again soon!
  • Evaluate whether your health benefits and sick leave policies adequately support mental health.

3. Protocols

Before you return, consider implementing the following plans and procedures for maintaining a safe workplace.

  • Give employees peace of mind by hiring a professional cleaner to deep clean the office before your return.
  • Implement new hygiene, cleaning and disinfection measures. Have a clear protocol for keeping all common areas and surfaces clean and increase cleaning and sanitizing frequency.
  • Implement new personal protective equipment protocols
  • Keep supplies on hand to make it easy for employees to follow good hygiene practices: disinfectant wipes and/or spray, hand sanitizer, hand soap, paper towels, tissues, face masks.
  • Increase the distance between workspaces, allowing a minimum of 6 feet for physical distancing. AHS will provide an assessment if requested.
  • If you share common spaces with other organizations, i.e. in a tower, ensure you understand their protocols and communicate them to your staff.
  • Strengthen telecommuting protocols to prepare for the second wave of infection

4. Communications

The most important piece of this process is to communicate your return to the workplace plan with your team so that everyone understands the safety measures and procedures. Clear and frequent communication will help to ease any anxieties and fears that staff may be experiencing.

  • Clarify the measures you are taking and why you believe them to be sufficient to keep everyone safe.
  • Create an expectation that the rules be followed and that you hold one another accountable.
  • Remind them of their obligations to practice safe practices outside of the workplace as well.
  • Provide a process for reporting concerns or ideas or additional measures.
  • Provide a contact person to discuss any accommodation or leaves required.
  • Consider having employees sign a document with the expectations.


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