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Return to the Workplace Series – Easing the Return to Work (RTW) Transition

So, we’ve been working remotely for several weeks (or even months) and whisperings of governments loosening restrictions are leading to certain business re-opening. As we continue down this path of social distancing and flattening the curve, organizations need to get ahead in terms of planning for their workforces to return to work. How the post-COVID workplace looks and feels remains to be seen, however. The silver lining to many in this uncertain time is the COVID-19 pandemic has forced companies to reconsider their remote work strategies – so much so that they may simply decide to establish this as the preferred way to work moving forward. More than likely, we will start to see a hybrid approach that offers more leniency towards the employee choosing to work remotely periodically. 

I for one, have been missing the office environment more and more as time goes on. Zoom meetings are great and all, but in a position that demands creativity, nothing beats impromptu idea bouncing and general office shenanigans. That, or I just crave the attention… Either way, as I write this cooped up in my home office, I find myself missing the hustle-bustle and aura of the office setting. But I digress. 

The reality is, at least in the short-term, companies will need to re-open and in some ways, re-launch to reach  pre-COVID-19 operating levels. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that there needs to be a fundamental shift in how we engage with each other. Don’t be surprised if handshaking becomes a thing of the past. Heck, if you’re a “hugger” you might need to make some difficult sacrifices if you haven’t already. 

The following are some examples of how the workplace may need to evolve to encourage a safe and healthy working environment post-pandemic: 

One Step at a Time 

This really is an unprecedented time for everyone. The pandemic has certainly affected individuals, but families have faced perhaps the greatest challenges. Daycares and schools have been shut down forcing families together like never before. But as restrictions lift and normal (as normal as can be that is) life returns, there will undoubtedly be a period in which folks simply work to get their affairs back in order. This, in turn, could cause some stressful situations for employees and employers alike. 

Ultimately, companies will more than likely have to establish some form of grace period to facilitate these adjustments for employees. Children cannot simply be re-enrolled in summer camps or daycares overnight and whatever form those programs take in the post-COVID era. 

At the end of the day, once employers begin re-opening their doors to staff, there must be an expectation that folks won’t be able to show up on day 1 without the necessary arrangements being made at home. Thankfully, the work from home mandates have hopefully established trust within the company to allow for this leniency period to occur. 

Corporate Distancing 

Our general proximity to coworkers is a real challenge when you think of the common office infrastructure. Specifically, larger corporations staffing hundreds in tight quarters. Or even smaller, more progressive workplaces that offer open-concept workspaces. From a preventative health standpoint, there needs to be an adjustment on how staff are situated – whether it be the standard 6 feet apart or similar. 

To that end, having guests in the office for meetings will likely be phased out or at least limited to ones that are deemed an absolute necessity. Video conferencing will ultimately eliminate that need for the most part anyway as it was already doing so. But you can say goodbye to the drop by’s for handshakes and pleasantries. 

Desk Slobs 

Good news! The frequency in which we clean our workspaces will not only have to increase but will also need to be mandated by the organization. Whether it’s the individual, someone on staff, or the building cleaning staff, desks and surfaces will likely need to be disinfected regularly. 

I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I try to wipe down all surfaces and devices in my office at least once a month. Up until now, that has primarily been a simple way to declutter and destress. But as offices repopulate, that activity will likely need to increase in frequency and be monitored and enforced to limit the spread of germs. 

With so much uncertainty, employers and employees alike will continue to navigate these uncharted waters. The aforementioned examples are just the tip of the iceberg as it relates to the forthcoming transition period. One thing is clear however: the workplace we remember is evolving and will continue to evolve substantially, and we must begin preparing if we hope to limit the stress on all parties. 

As we continue our Return to the Workplace Series, we will dive deeper into some of the issues (and there are many) that could arise as we return to the office. Stay tuned! 

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