While remote work is here to stay, in some capacity, indefinitely, many employees and certainly many employers are eager to return to the office life. Many of the studies and reports that have come out of the pandemic regarding productivity and employee happiness suggest that people have no problem working remotely for the rest of their careers, but there are still certain roles, as well as something to be said for in-person collaboration and interaction, that will draw scores of people back to on-site work. If you are planning on getting your people into the office post-vaccination, below are 6 ways to safely welcome them back.
When businesses start to welcome back their employees en masse depends on where in the world they happen to be located, with the United States, for example, vaccinating a much larger number of people than almost anywhere else. These are people you haven’t seen in-person in over a year, and who haven’t seen their coworkers and colleagues in that same amount of time. A good way to break the ice, so to speak, especially for any new hires who might have been brought on during the pandemic, is to cater a lunch to make everyone feel welcome.
Getting employees to feel comfortable while coming back to work in physical office spaces will require employers to take some preemptive measures. One that should be on the top of any business owner or office manager’s list is an air purifier. Depending on how large your office space is, you may need a couple scattered throughout, but the good thing is that you can pick up a consumer-grade air purifier on any of the large e-retailer sites for not very much.
During the SARS outbreak in 2003, for instance, the Hong Kong Hospital Authority recommended hospitals make use of portable air purifiers with HEPA filters in them to help reduce transmission to healthcare workers and a lot of subsequent research backs up the suggestion as well. Knowing that they are coming into an enclosed space in which air circulation and filtration is something that is being taken seriously will help put minds at ease. At the very least, it will help prevent the spread of other common seasonal viruses, as well as make the air more breathable for people with respiratory conditions.
Masks (For Those Who Want Them)
While a large-scale return to the office will likely only be possible once a critical mass of people in societies around the world have been vaccinated, many people will likely continue to suffer from Pandemic PTSD for some time to come and feel more comfortable, if not wearing masks in and around the office, at least having the option to do so.
Keeping a constant supply of masks in different places around the office is a good idea and will make returning employees feel like their employer is looking out for both their mental and physical health.
Pursuant to the above recommendation, many people, despite being aware that their coworkers have been vaccinated, may still feel nervous about resuming normal office life and behaviour. The goal is to ease people back into this and have the office up and running normally in as short a time as possible, and nervous employees may be an impediment to that.
A good way to put many, if not most people’s minds at ease is to hire a medical professional, preferably an epidemiologist or infectious disease expert, to either speak directly to your employees (virtually or in-person), or write a letter that is personally addressed to your workforce, explaining the risks and, importantly, endorsing the idea that people can and should start resuming their lives as normal.
Plants are a good air purification addition, but they also come with a tremendous amount of mental health benefits. If your office wasn’t particularly green prior to the pandemic, consider investing some money into making the space a more natural-looking one. There is a wide range of indoor plants that will thrive in any office environment as long as they receive regular watering and get their daily or weekly sunlight requirements.
Plants that do well in offices include spider plants, cactuses, snake plants, bamboo, ficus, and lemon balm. You can even designate a watering schedule to give people the chance to engage in some highly therapeutic horticultural practices.
This might seem hokey at first thought, but having “I am vaccinated” stickers for people to wear as you welcome employees back into the office is a good way to give them the confidence to interact, collaborate and resume office professional and personal friendships. One of the very unfortunate collateral effects of the pandemic will likely be an unwillingness to be close to other people for some time, and at least while the world begins the slow path back to something approximating normality.
Even with mass vaccination, getting people comfortable with coming back into work will require some planning and coaxing. Incentivizing a return to the office will be one part of the equation, and making your office space post-pandemic-friendly and empathetic is the other. Keep the above tips and suggestions in mind when opening the office back up and make returning employees feel safe, valued and comfortable resuming their normal professional lives.