How to Prepare for Employees Return to the Office

return to the office

With a mass return to the office looming for many employers and employees, change management has seldom been more relevant than it is today. 


Research conducted by the PEW Research Center reveals:


  • 20% of employed adults worked from home (WFH) before the pandemic
  • 71% are currently WFH
  • 54% want to continue WFH after the pandemic ends


Another survey conducted by Buffer reveals that 98% of US adults would like to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers.


These WFH statistics reveal that huge changes are on the horizon. Determining whether your employees’ return to the office is going to be full-time, a hybrid of office and WFH time, or non-existent is just one of the decisions employers have to consider. Deciding what that change will look like is another matter entirely. 


Here are a few things that you should think about when you’re coming up with your reintegration plan:

Put Safety Measures in Place

Employees and customers alike may have concerns about returning to “business as usual.” Safety measures can help mitigate those fears. Here are a few safety measures to consider:


  • Implementing employee health screenings
  • Providing PPE, including personal hand sanitizers or hand sanitizer stations, gloves, masks, etc. 
  • Rearranging the office for physical distancing
  • Creating an exposure-response plan 
  • Restrict business travel to essential trips only
  • Developing detailed plans for working with customers and visitors, including:
    • Physical distancing protocols
    • Virtual meetings instead of in-person ones
    • Limit the number of clients or customers in any one area at a time
  • Comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) coronavirus protocols

Set a Return to the Office Date

Notify your staff about the safety measures you’re implementing, as well as when they can expect to return to the office. You should also figure out how to approach your employees’ office return. If you bring everyone back all at once, you’ll risk going against the very safety measures you’re implementing. 


You should consider slowly phasing-in employees based on nondiscriminatory factors, such as by department or seniority level. You might also consider a hybrid in-person/WFH strategy. By doing this, only half of your staff is in the office at once. 


Create a plan for high-risk employees, giving them the option to WFH until they feel comfortable returning or until after they’ve been vaccinated. Consider additional needs they may require, such as extra PPE, a long-term hybrid schedule, or an isolated work station. 


Also, notify your state’s unemployment agency. Let them know that your employees will return to work, and draft a plan for how to handle employees that are unwilling or unable to return.

Create a Communications Plan

The clearer you communicate your plans with your employees, the better. Make yourself or a knowledgeable member of your team available to answer any questions or concerns your employees might have. They should be able to answer questions like:


  • What are the new workplace safety and disinfection protocols?
  • What should you do if you or someone you know have been exposed to COVID-19?
  • How are physical distancing or staying home if sick policies are being implemented?
  • When will I/my department return to work? What should I prepare for?
  • And much more

Convey Compensation Changes

Many companies implemented compensation changes during the pandemic, such as reducing employee hours, delaying pay increases, or altering bonus structures. If your staff has been affected by these changes, you need to establish a plan to address them. 

While you’re at it, you should consider conducting a pay equity audit. The pandemic has affected different demographics in different ways. This could provide you with a great opportunity to bridge any pay gaps and ensure that you’re paying your employees fairly.

Implement Policy Changes

The next normal will probably require some policy changes. Review your current policies and make adjustments as needed. Some of these changes include, but aren’t limited to:


  • Staggering break times and lunches
  • Relaxed attendance policies that encourage sick employees to remain home 
  • Travel policies in accordance with domestic and global travel restrictions
  • Flexible start and stop times 
  • WFH policies and procedures
  • Updated IT policies and procedures

Have a Re-Exit Plan

If we end up shutting down again, you need to plan for a smooth transition from the office back to WFH full-time. While we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, we’re not out of the woods yet. If this last year has taught us anything, it’s that anything is possible and that we should always be prepared to implement change.