The worst of the virus and lockdowns are behind us. What now? Many companies are saying it’s time to come back to the office, and plenty of employees are happy to finally get into the workplace once again.
These are still unprecedented times, however, and there may be some bumps in the road as we make our way back to work. We spoke with business owners who offered tips for successfully re-entering the workplace.
Despite having stayed in touch via video and email for the past year, many employees might feel disconnected from the traditional office community. This should be a focus for companies to ensure smooth re-entry.
“Returning to work post-pandemic has for sure been challenging,” said Jing Gao, CEO of Fly By Jing. “The key to easing anxiety has been implementing an incredible amount of team building activities. Socialization is the biggest aspect we have all been lacking, so bringing our team back together to readjust is crucial. We are in the works to figure out a plan in which we can keep the community aspect of our employees while we’re slowly integrating back into the office.”
A cohesive community won’t be built overnight, so don’t rush things.
Get Into the Groove
There are some pressures that come with the office experience that aren’t present in the work-from-home environment. Test the waters by showing up for a few days here and there, rather than diving in headfirst.
“It’s a good idea to mentally prepare yourself to re-enter the workplace after the last two years of chaos,” said Tri Nguyen, CEO of Network Capital. “The world has been upside-down for most so give yourself some time to mentally get back into the swing of office life. If you have enjoyed working remotely, speak with your company about the possibility of working in a hybrid fashion. Coming in twice a month or twice a week. This will help you mentally get back into office life slowly or find a better balance for your life as a whole.”
Companies should be flexible and understanding of employees who want to take their time making the shift back to the office.
Opportunity for Growth
The “hybrid office” is the big buzzword right now, and executives are trying to figure out the best balance of remote work and in-office interaction to maximize productivity and employee satisfaction.
“Success in a hybrid work environment requires employers to move beyond viewing remote or hybrid environments as a temporary or short-term strategy and to treat it as an opportunity.” George Penn, VP at Gartner.
While many will try to plan the hybrid work environment from the top down, it will more likely happen organically and change with the times, as all things do.
Have No Fear
Now that the coast is clear with regard to the virus and shutdowns, it’s time to set fear aside and get back to living life. For some people, however, they still might feel some residual fear from the experience.
“Re-entering the workforce can be a scary thing, but it doesn’t have to be,” said Omid Semino, CEO of Diamond Mansion. “The pandemic has caused fear in many people about catching this illness. If you have some inhibitions about heading back to the office, know that you can continue to wear your mask for your comfort. Also, you can have some hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies at your desk to help you feel more comfortable about heading back into the office. Do what you need to ease yourself back into the workplace.”
Remember to stay rational and remind employees (and yourself) that all is well.
Spruce Up the Attire
If you’ve been spending the last year lounging around at home in sweatpants and t-shirts, now is the time to do some shopping and freshen up your look for the office.
“It’s time to say goodbye to PJ-all-day workdays and hello to professional work attire once again,” said Alex Czarnecki, CEO of Cottage. “Go through your wardrobe and find some professional outfits that you can wear into the workplace once again. It’s a good time to update anything in your wardrobe that is uncomfortable, outdated, or does not fit anymore. Dressing for success will help you feel confident and be successful in your return to the workplace.”
Once you get back into that business casual attire, you’ll feel way more confident and have an easier time with re-entry.
Set a Plan
Whether your company is doors-open and fully back to normal or you want to take things more slowly, inform everyone in your organization of the game plan so there’s no confusion.
“While we had to leave in-office work abruptly due to the quick ascent of the pandemic, we don’t need to re-enter the office abruptly. It’s going to take some time for your workforce to adjust to working in an office (and commuting), so make it easier on them by allowing a hybrid work model at the beginning of your reopening – or indefinitely,” said Bill Glaser, CEO of Outstanding Foods. “At the end of the day, it’s about which type of office best suits your employees’ needs.”
Employees are in need of some real leadership right now, so executives and managers must step up to the plate.
This is an exciting time and everyone is eager to get back to normal, but it might take some time to socialize and readjust to regular society. Positivity and patience will be key for everyone.
“Stay positive as you re-enter the workplace,” said John Levisay, CEO of The Pro’s Closet. “The whole world has had a crazy, strange, and trying two years due to the pandemic. So be kind to yourself and others and try to keep a positive attitude as the world slowly returns to normal. Everyone had a different experience during the pandemic and returning to the workplace will be a shock for some. Keep looking at things in a positive light and you will be successful in your re-entry to the workplace.”
Be ready for new challenges and rewards in the workplace, and be accommodating of others’ needs as well.
A new precedent has been set for communication thanks to remote work, and team leaders need to enforce those standards as everyone makes the move back to a physical office.
“Effective communication and opportunities for innovation while managing a remote team stemmed from our willingness to listen, learn, and make ourselves available at all times,” said Chris Vaughn, CEO of Saucey. “We couldn’t keep a business afloat from home without an open line of communication with our employees, and we have absolutely planned to continue the same communication practices as we headed back into in-office work.”
It will be easy to let communication protocols slide now that we can speak to each other in person, so be aware of letting things slide or be forgotten.
There have been many touchy subjects in the news lately, and coworkers might not see eye-to-eye on everything. Do what’s necessary to help people get along and work together.
“A lot of experts, as well as myself, were concerned about toxicity in the workplace,” said Kaz Amor, Founder of VoCe Haircare. “With strong, differing opinions being at the forefront of the past year, you have to create a culture that fosters respect for one another. The best you can do is put together a team of dedicated HR professionals that will commit to creating a great, healthy culture that celebrates diversity and uplifts one another.”
A good HR team will also help bring new employees into the company and help them feel comfortable.
Haven’t exercised that small talk muscle in a while? Now is the time to warm back up socially, because you’ll need to be on point for meetings and daily interactions with coworkers and customers.
“It’s a good idea to brush up on your people skills before heading back to the workplace,” said Ajay Mehta, CEO of Birthdate Candles. “It’s been a minute since everyone has had to interact with coworkers on a daily basis. Just remind yourself of who your coworkers are and some small talk topics if you’re feeling nervous about being around everyone again.”
Everyone will feel a little awkward at first, so just work on getting through those first few days.
Hybrid is Here
For all the advantages we’ve enjoyed from remote work, even the top executives in the world know the power of being face-to-face with people on your team to accomplish great things.
“We firmly believe that in-person, being together, having that sense of community, is super important for whenever you have to solve hard problems, you have to create something new,” said Google CEO Sundar Pichai. “So we don’t see that changing, so we don’t think the future is just 100% remote or something.”
Every company will have a unique take on the hybrid office, so start mapping out a plan now.
Now that many restrictions are being rolled back, employees will be happy to live life normally with handshakes, high-fives, and all the rest. Still, safety policies will be important for executives to promote and manage.
“We have all of our employee’s safety at the forefront of our plans for returning to work,” said William Schumacher, CEO and Founder of Uprising Food. “We plan to stay relatively distanced in-office and have plenty of sanitizing stations so each employee feels absolutely safe and comfortable while working. We also have plans to figure out a PPE strategy for employees. Beyond physical safety, we’re considering the mental toll of returning to work as well. We are really trying to push transparency and openness. We aren’t mind readers, so we want to schedule meetings with all of our employees to hear their concerns in order to work out a solid plan we can implement to improve their mental health during this transition.”
Even if you can’t be 100% perfect about safety and sanitation, try to encourage it in the workplace and set a high standard.
What are the policies that work best without limiting productivity? That will be up for business leaders to decide, but it can help by asking employees for their input as well.
“While the world is opening back up, many businesses feel lost when implementing new policies to optimize the safety of our clients and our employees,” said Tirzah Shirai, CEO and Founder of The Blink Bar. “The most important initiative is comfortability. We are all new to this post-pandemic world and we are all trying to figure out what works best for us. Treat every client and employee with kindness, their needs are important to operating the company smoothly and safely.”
Not every policy will be popular or followed to perfection, but it’s worth putting in the effort up front.
Ease Back In
Managers and supervisors will not have a one-size-fits-all solution for employee re-entry, so it’s better to take things case-by-case. This will take some extra time, but it’s better than taking a free-for-all approach.
“Heading back into the workplace is happening more and more these days,” said Jim Beard, COO of Box Genie. “With the vaccination going out, companies are starting to request that workers come back in. If you have any reservations about heading back to work you can ask your company if it’s possible to work from home a few days a week and from the office the other days. This will allow you to ease back into your routine.”
As long as employees are happy and productivity remains high, any type of flexible policy should do the job.
Avoid Workplace Distractions
The distractions of working from home can be hard to manage, but we may have forgotten that the office has many distractions of its own. Employees and execs should prepare for challenges that they may have overlooked in terms of re-entry.
“Going back to the workplace will definitely require some adjustments, with the least being that you’ll have to leave your pajamas at home,” said Travis Killian, Owner and CEO of Everlasting Comfort. “After some time away, you’ll need to get used to the idea of working in-person with others again, as well as the distractions that may accompany it.”
The work-from-home era might not be over, but it’s certainly time to make a move back to the office and resume business as usual. These insights should help you and your staff navigate this tricky situation and make the most of the workplace once again.
A professional writer with over a decade of incessant writing skills. Her topics of interest and expertise range from health, nutrition and psychology.