Five considerations to ensure a safe return to office

News and Trends
April 20, 2022

As COVID restrictions relax, more companies and BPOs are heading back to office. Whether your business is considering a full-time or hybrid return-to-office setup, preparing an official return-to-work guide will help you transition more smoothly. Your team will know what to do and expect, which will prevent possible confusion and miscommunications. Your employees will also feel more at ease knowing that you took the proper health measures to keep them safe. 

To ensure a safe, hassle-free return that encourages productivity and supports the way your team works, here are five important things to consider.

Decide if you need to downsize/upsize your office

The time before employees return to the office is ideal for making adjustments to your office space. For most companies, a good office establishes a company’s reputation, attracts potential hires, increases productivity, and creates workplace connections. The size of your team and work setup will ultimately help you decide your current and long-term office needs. 

Downsizing to a smaller office space makes sense when employing a permanent hybrid, flexible, or rotating schedule setup. It’s also a chance to reduce operating costs – you can spend instead on tools, allowances, or health and wellness services that will be more useful to a remote team.

A bigger space, meanwhile, is a good long-term investment if you’ve recruited new hires, expect a larger team, need to receive clients regularly, or want to build a more conducive work environment. 

Set up back-to-work guidelines with team representatives

Every company defines their return-to-office guidelines differently. This is why it’s crucial to start with a dialogue with representatives from your company’s departments. Exploring their different perspectives takes some time, but your final plan must balance your production and operations with your employees’ insights, processes, and needs.

From there, you’ll need to prepare and release official return-to-work guidelines, which should contain: 

Work setup and rotating schedules. Will you be employing a hybrid setup, or a full return to work? Will you implement a rotating weekly schedule or alternate office days instead? Answer these questions and define your expectations on who should come in and when as clearly as possible.
Vaccination and booster policies. According to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), you may encourage employees to get vaccinated, but they cannot be forced. Consider if you can or need to offer vaccination shots. The cost of the vaccine, however, cannot be charged to the employees. Furthermore, you cannot terminate or discriminate against employees for not being vaccinated.
Work travel guidelines. Face-to-face meetings establish better rapport and communication with team members and clients. Still, it’s crucial to define what situations should count as essential business travel, in-person meeting, or video call. Doing this will not only limit unnecessary travel and spending, but also minimize exposure.
Tracing and reporting plan. Exposure is always a possible risk, so have a trace-and-report plan ready. Setting up an exposure response plan in case an employee tests positive for COVID-19 will help your team act fast in assisting infected employees, tracing close contacts at work, and testing and monitoring exposed team members.
Sanitation schedules. Add routine cleaning and deep cleaning schedules to your guidelines so employees know when to clear out the office. If you are providing COVID-19 prevention supplies such as masks and alcohol, you can also add how employees can access them.
Socialization reminders. Set the maximum number of people allowed in the office and in shared areas, such as the office pantry and conference rooms. Remind employees to stay home at any sign of COVID-19 symptoms.

Prepare work areas and create a plan for maintaining them

Have a stock of hand sanitizers, alcohol, and masks always readily available to employees. Increase airflow in your office, or invest in an air-filtering system to improve ventilation.

Rearrange work desks to follow safe distancing measures. Limit seating capacity and encourage pre-scheduled meetings in conference rooms to prevent overcrowding, allow disinfection in between meetings, and track team members who gathered in the room at any given time.

Place colored tapes or decals as markers to space out seating in shared tables and conference rooms. You may do the same for high-traffic areas to limit unnecessary contact.

Implement a strict cleaning schedule of desks, common areas, high-touch items such as door knobs, and other shared workspaces or rooms. Segregate hazardous waste such as used face masks and tissues; make sure that your sanitation staff also wears gloves and PPEs while doing so.

Establish physical distancing rules

Team socialization and bonding is an advantage of returning back to the office. Still, you must actively implement social distancing, especially wearing masks in shared spaces. A rotating schedule can prevent overcrowding, especially if your current office has limited seating. You can also spread out lunch schedules and put up reminders to discourage physical contact. More importantly, encourage team members to rest and stay home when they’re not feeling well or manifest minor symptoms.

Assigning an Occupational Safety and Health officer among your employees will help accomplish this task faster. The officer will help enforce safety rules, send workplace reminders, trace infected employees and close contacts, and report and refer them to the nearest monitoring facilities or healthcare facilities. 

 

Encourage questions and feedback

Returning to work will be a big adjustment, and not everyone might be able to go back to the office for various circumstances and reasons. Have a platform where employees feel safe to ask questions or give feedback about the current setup. You can conduct anonymous surveys or polls through SurveyMonkey or Jotform to get honest responses and suggestions.

Make it a point to review employee feedback once or twice a month, and adjust your safety guidelines with the agreement of your teams’ representatives.

 

 

Since there is no official handbook for adjusting to the pandemic, SME business owners must create their own to ensure a safe and stress-free workplace for employees. To help you organize your back-to-office plan, here’s a detailed Back-to-Office checklist that you can use to track your progress as you go along.

If you need financing for better working spaces, vaccination programs, or other initiatives to make your company’s return-to-office easier, First Circle’s financing options are here to support you. Send us an email at support@firstcircle.com to find out more.

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