Navigating the aftermath of the COVID-19 restrictions will likely be one of the most significant business challenges of our time, and as the rate of new infections declines in New Zealand, it appears the inevitable return to the workplace is on the not-too-distant horizon. But as organisations begin planning this transition back to work, things are going to be different, and detailed preparations will be vital for helping employees adapt to new ways of working post-pandemic.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to planning your team’s return to work, we’ve outlined some key considerations that may help you when facing these unprecedented challenges:

Orchestrate a Phased Return to Work

For most businesses, it will take many months for them to return to the way they worked prior to COVID-19, if it happens at all. Having large numbers of employees in a shared office space is a big risk for spreading the virus, so managing the number of people present at one time will be critical to maintaining workplace health, particularly in the initial weeks and months.

A staggered return to the workplace is the best way to address this issue, and it will likely be prudent (both practically and financially) to continue some degree of remote and flexible working practices for the coming months. As you begin planning the transition, speak to your employees and find out their preferences – some may want to come back to the office full time, some may choose to work in the office for part of the week and the rest at home, and others may prefer to continue working from home for the immediate future.

Once you establish where your team is at, you can develop a process that suits your needs and the space that’s available. One option could be rotating the employees who are working from the office every few days to accommodate more people in the workspace, preferably spreading them across functional lines.

Rethink the Use of Space

Even when workplaces open, some restrictions will remain, and businesses will need to be proactive in adapting their physical work environments. To accommodate social distancing, reconfigure the floor plan to increase the space between workstations, determine the maximum capacity of each area and remove excess seating to help people follow the guidelines. Limiting the number of people attending in-person meetings will also be important for reducing the risk of virus spread.

It’s a good idea to clearly assign desks and track who sits where (whether that’s permanently or for each shift) to reduce unnecessary contact. Where possible, designating bathrooms and breakrooms for smaller groups can also help with this, and will make it easier to prioritise the cleaning of spaces being used.

Increase Hygiene Measures

In addition to social distancing and capping the number of employees in the office at one time, developing and communicating solid hygiene protocols is key. Depending on your business and the nature of the space you work in, this could include:

Maintain Communication

Most organisations will have increased the level of communications during the remote working period, and returning to physical work environments isn’t time to relax this. Good communication is essential for a successful transition back to the office and establishing the “new normal,” as without employee buy-in, even the best-laid plans are likely to fail. It also helps to provide reassurance to employees, who will naturally have questions about the measures being taken to protect them in the office and the future of the business and their roles.

As you return to the workplace, make it a priority to not only continue the broader communication you will have been doing throughout the crisis, but also to openly advertise protocols for hygiene, social distancing and visitors. Make use of platforms that enable employees to connect, communicate and collaborate, utilise methods such as employee surveys to gauge morale, and provide informal forums for open discussion and feedback.

Closing Thoughts

The eventual return to the workplace may provide a sense of normality for many, however, planning that return can feel both complex and overwhelming. As we proceed towards our “new normal”, we hope these considerations can guide your preparations, supporting the balance of business continuity and employee safety of workers.

For more advice, or help with your Tech recruitment needs, please contact the Sourced team – whether you’re in the office or working from home, we’re here to support you.

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