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6 Ways to Help Employees Feel Comfortable Back in the Office

The return to office is in sight, and with it, comes the latest challenge faced by employers. Ensure your team feels comfortable with the transition back to the workplace.

You might be excited to welcome your team members back to the office, but some of your employees may be feeling anxious. According to a survey by Blind of 4,200 users, 65 percent of employees are anxious about returning to the office, 47 percent are worried about their health and 43 percent are worried about social interaction.

Employers need to prioritize the process of ensuring team members feel safe to return to the office and are comfortable socially in the workplace. We’ve called out some helpful steps to create a positive experience for your team as they head back into the office.  

1. Find a New Cleaning Schedule (And Tell Employees)

In the early days of the pandemic, offices simply shut down when possible, avoiding any possible spread of Coronavirus. However, now we know that proper cleaning methods can be maintained to allow employees back into the office. Companies are finding many ways to keep a consistent cleaning schedule that puts employees at ease and keeps everyone safe. For example, SERVPRO found:

  • 63 percent of companies clean several times per day
  • 34 percent of companies sanitize the workplace daily
  • 34 percent have hired a CDC-approved cleaning company and janitorial service
  • 51 percent installed additional hand sanitizers and/or stations

While there are many options to consider in choosing and creating a cleaning schedule that allows employees to feel safe, consider following CDC guidelines:

  • A once daily cleaning is sufficient when “no people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 are known to have been in a space.”
  • Use products found on List N, the CDC’s list of COVID-approved cleaners.
  • Clean and disinfect the entire workplace if someone with COVID has been in the workplace within the last 24 hours.

Be sure to communicate your workplace cleaning plan with all team members as soon as possible to mitigate unease.

2. Create Policies for Common Areas

While it makes sense for companies to create socially distanced workspaces with separated desks and plexiglass barriers, how do you handle break rooms and meeting spaces? As your employees return, you need a plan to navigate these common areas so they can still connect while staying safe.  

Start by following your national and local guidelines. For example, Santa Clara County in California has asked companies to limit access to break rooms and rest areas as much as possible, causing Stanford University to close these spaces. 

Build on your regional requirements to create a policy that makes sense within your organization. This may mean staggering break times or limiting breakroom capacity. If possible, try to provide alternatives if you need to limit seating. For example, now might be an optimal time to invest in outdoor picnic benches for your staff. 

A clear policy can minimize confusion and create a positive experience as employees ease back into the workplace.   

3. Use What Employees Learned During the Pandemic

Thousands of people have turned to online learning to build new skills during the pandemic. Many opted to put their free time during lockdown to good use, while others were furloughed and wanted to improve their career prospects. Anant Agarwal, founder and CEO of edX shares the growth they saw:

“We saw a 15-fold, not 15%, a 15-fold increase in the number of new learners registering on edX during the month of April 2020. For the year through November 2020, compared to the year through November 2019, the number of new registrations on edX went up by 161%.”

Use this as an asset for the company. After months of working from home, some employees may be looking for ways to contribute more or grow in their position—and with new skills, they might have what it takes to step up. 

Set 1:1 meetings with your team members, and give those looking to grow new tasks and opportunities for both employees and the company as a whole.

4. Don’t Ignore Team Bonding Activities

One of the drawbacks of the remote workforce is that employees didn’t get as much cross-departmental interaction as they normally would. Small team-building opportunities, like chatting in the breakroom during lunch, were nearly impossible with remote work. Murray Seward, CEO at Outback Team Building and Training, has noticed that companies want to re-introduce workers to each other with cross-departmental training. 

“We’re now seeing the need to not only create bonding opportunities for micro teams but also the need to make sure that everyone is aware of everyone else. We’re starting to see an increased appetite for cross-departmental and even company-wide team building.”

While the Blind survey data mentioned that 43 percent of workers were worried about social interaction, you can still implement team activities and training safely. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind as you bring the team feeling back into your office:

  • Use spaces that are large enough for everyone to stay as socially distant as they feel at ease.
  • Poll employees to understand which activities feel most safe and comfortable. 
  • Focus on bringing together small groups of people, both cross-departmental and team specific, to keep the gatherings safe while allowing and enabling for the connection employees have been missing.

5. Assure Them You Have a Plan

In January 2021, the annual Edelman Trust Barometer survey of 33,000 workers found that more workers are worried about having their hours cut or their jobs eliminated. This fear is warranted with 54 percent of workers having already seen their hours cut by the pandemic. 

Your team members are stressed. Assure them that you have a plan to keep their workplace and jobs secure. This comes in the form of regular communication, check-ins and connection so everyone is on the same page – from leadership to employees.

Take small steps to build trust and confidence and make your team members more comfortable as they return to the in-person workplace

6. Ask For Patience

Most companies are trying to figure out the best way to move forward as offices are allowed and feel secure enough to re-open. There is still a significant need to keep employees safe, along with the need for emotional support as they navigate the stress and anxiety of being in a workplace after more than a year of working from home. Your job is to create a plan, communicate it, and stay connected with employees so you can ease their fears and get back to work.

Jessica Thiefels is a published author, host of Mindset Reset Radio, and founder and CEO of Jessica Thiefels Consulting, an organic content marketing agency. She’s been writing for more than 10 years and has been featured in top publications including Forbes and Entrepreneur. She also contributes to Glassdoor, Fast Company, Outbrain, and more. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.