Here in Germany, the mandatory work at home order has been lifted and as a marketing professional, a semblance of normality is returning to my job role. I am planning on-site events again, we will soon be re-starting our video tutorial series and yes this means I am finally heading back to the office. Such calls to head back to the office are getting louder - and not just from business leaders. Many employees are eager to swap their kitchen and dinning room tables for a proper desk. Despite falling numbers and increases in vaccinations in many areas, returning employees back to the workplace will not be as straightforward and it won’t be business as usual. Before we all rush back, companies and leaders need a plan in order to ensure that 1. they are heading back to office for the right reasons and 2. the transition is as smooth and safe as possible.
While the finer points of an individual business' plan will be different, here is a checklist guide to what we think business leaders should, as a bare minimum, consider before returning staff to the office.
1. Workplace Safety
Employee health and wellbeing is crucical and employers must ensure that their workplaces are a safe as possible. With the COVID-19 pandemic, workplace safety policies need updating. It is also perfectly reasonable for employees and visitors to harbour certain fears about returning to business as usual, so clear guidelines, policies, and communication are essential.
The following list is intented to provide some guidelines to get started, but is by no means complete. While all elements are essential, legally the most critical element is to understand, implement and comply with local Workplace Health and Safety and COVID Laws.
Establishing social distancing protocols within the office
- Staggered breaks and lunch times to ensure not all employees are in communal areas at the same time
- Limiting the maximum number of people allowed in certain areas / offices / company cars
- Creating an in-office rotation policy to limit number of on-site staff
- Provide remote staff with the technology required to work remotely
- Moving workstations to create more physical distance between employees
- Centrally accessible documentation & floor plan to graphically represent social distancing measures and restrictions
- Clarify self-isolation proceedures
- Implement office access control with Video Intercoms & RFID chips
- Implement and update testing requirements to enter the workplace
- Implement contact tracing policies for within the workplace
- Update stay at home requirements incl. non COVID-19 related illnesses
- Effective guidelines and communication channels for potentially exposed employees
Personal Protection Equipement & Hygiene Protocols
- Provision of FFP2 masks or legally required equivalent for staff
- Establishing guidelines for when and where masks must be worn
- Personal hand sanitisiers and hand sanitation stations
- Establish ventilation protocols to ensure fresh air either through open window policy or air filters
- Ensure ongoing supplies, particularly for personnel with regular in-person customer contact - i.e. Technical Support, Field Sales etc
On-site Customer Visits & Office Visitors
- Establish and safely direct traffic channels throughout the workplace
- Limit the number of onsite visitors & manage remote working to not exceed max allowed number of people within the workplace
- Limit Business Travel to essential travel only
- Use web, video & audio conferencing to limit number of in-person meetings
- Establish contactless pickup and delivery of products, post etc.
2. Return to Work Strategy
A measured, phased in approach to recalling staff to the office is required. Enforcing a mandatory return to work strategy where all employees must return to the office on a certain day may not be feasible given the workplace health and safety measures above. For many employees, a mass return to the office may be overwelhming and could well be unsafe. That your business is considering returning to the office does not mean that other institutions are lifting restrictions. Therefore, employees may require extra flexibility with regards to childcare etc. Also consider employees may be shielding high-risk category family members.
Gradual Return to the Office
- Adopt a non-discriminatory approach to returning to the office i.e. by senority or department
- Establish a schedule to outline which employees need to be in the office and on which days
- Communicate with employees to establish plans for not only High-Risk category staff but also family members
- Communicate and support employees who require extra flexibility due to child care, family obligations etc.
- Consider employees who commute on public transport and whether they and other staff are comfortable with reentering the office
If your offices are located in a business complex, consult with the building management on any additional guidelines such as stagged timings to enter the building.
Updated Workplace Health and Safety Training
- Train and brief staff on any updates to your workplace health and safety protocols
- Document changes and inform employees how and where they can access the policy
- Continually monitor government COVID-19 guidelines & restrictions to stay informed of developements
- Regularly communicate with employees to ensure policies are followed and inform them of changes
3. Remote Work
Remote working has definitely been an invaluable tool in protecting employees and helping limit the spread of COVID-19. It has enabled both businesses and employees in many sectors to keep operating and therefore help prevent the economic impact of the pandemic from being far worse. Consider using remote work not only as disaster response tool, but as a long-term, productivity enhancing employee benefit and cost-saving tool.
Remote Working Technology
- Evaluate your current remote working tools and update as necessary
- Provide employee training focussed on effective remote collaboration & tools
- Consolidate multi-vendor solutions with cloud based all-in-one solutions to boost productivity and save costs
- Implement project management enterprise software to remotely lead and manage dispersed teams
- Explore hybrid working to rotate office and home-office days
- Be approachable to employees who wish to continue to work remotely
- Consider any contractual changes that may be required i.e. contracts, work mobile phones, utility bills etc.
- Investigate long-term cost savings, productivity, and environmental benefits of permanent remote working
4. Business Continuity Plans
The pandemic has highlighted the need for Business Continuity plans and many valuable lessons have been learnt over the past year. As we return to the workplace, now is the time to review, implement, update and document your plans for future disruptions.
Document The Plan
- If a Business Continuity plan didn’t exist pre-pandemic, now’s the time to implement one
- Establish a Business Continuity Team to plan, test and review
- Include Infectious Disease Control including the common cold and the flu
- Update any contact information and review dates to ensure ongoing accuracy
- Inform and train staff, test knowledge and response and revise accordingly
Plan for Future Pandemic Disruptions & Restrictions
- Plan for future Stay-at-Home / mandatory remote working orders
- Plan for supply chain disruptions, particularly PPE and tech hardware
- Establish on-site staff rotation pölicies for essential office staff
- Plan remote working protocols and communication proceedures
We’re here to help
As mentioned above, the return to the office will not be as straightforward as many think. The above list provides a template from which to work from and highlights questions and aspects that business leaders must consider before recalling staff to the office. In all likelyhood, most businesses will want to adopt a hybrid working strategy. Doing so offers a comprise that will appeal to employers and employees as hybrid working delivers a “best of both worlds” approach to the modern workplace. Whatever approach you business adopts, agile communications will be crucial to its success, whether that be internally with your team or communicating externally with customers, suppliers and business partners.
If you have any queries about pascom phone systems, the pascom apps and features and how they can help your business prepare for tomorrow’s workplace, then we’re here to help. Just give us a call on +49 991 291691 200 and get started with our free cloud phone system edition.