Roadmap to Re-Opening the Office – What Should Your New Normal Look Like?

We’ve been saying it for over 18 months – “new normal” – a bit of an oxymoron, but it’s evidently our current reality. Employers are facing new challenges and opportunities, all the while learning that our employees can make a lasting impact within our organizations from their kitchen tables. The work is getting done even if we’re not all together. However, as we move toward a more heavily vaccinated population, employers are beginning to establish what coming back to the office will look like.  

As an employer, it’s our responsibility under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect workers – this means not only ensuring the premises are properly equipped with up-to-date safety measures, but also keeping an open channel for communication amongst our biggest asset: our employees. Clearly it’s all over the map when it comes to public opinion about returning to the office: some companies have fully adopted a work-from-home (WFH) model, whereas others are eager to get back into the building. I know at Bensol, we’re holding fast to a safety-first policy, but we’ve missed the dynamic and energy that comes with being together and have found ways to gather from time to time. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, one thing remains at the core – mindful communication.   

When determining the best plan of attack for your business, allowing employees to voice their opinions and comfort levels is your first step. I recently spoke with a long-time professional colleague and friend, Brandy Douglas, who owns the human resources consulting firm CulturedHR and has been coaching clients on their back-to-the-office policies. She says three things need to be considered as these plans come together: communicate, communicate, and communicate. 

“Really, it needs to come down to having honest conversations with employees,” she explained. “You may have those who are eager to get back to their desks, while others will feel more comfortable taking whatever necessary precautions they see fit. It’s important to respect both stances, as well as communicate your expectations and your company’s ‘new normal’ to employees well in advance of implementation”.  

A good start is putting together a COVID-19 Policy or Safety Plan. Based on the Reopening Ontario Act, 2020, written or documented plans must be available to all employees as well as posted in an accessible location for a business to remain open. If you’re unsure how to go about making one, this template is a great place to start. 

Keeping a thoughtful approach to reopening includes multiple other facets to consider. When it comes to recruitment and retaining employees, Brandy advises that anyone who has been onboarded during COVID-19 will likely need to be re-onboarded in an office environment. Additionally, consider how you’re going to keep culture alive within the organization – if you’re moving to a hybrid model, collaboration is a must, and “everyone needs to feel included, regardless of their situation,” Brandy explained. Anything that brings the team together is going to keep staff, and more importantly, keep staff happy. It’s important to be creative and flexible – you may have to think a little bit outside the box.  

Finally, be mindful of employees’ financial status and stress (though I’m sure it’s been on your mind for the last year and a half). As employers, we should be thinking about how to be flexible and supportive, whether that means implementing a wellness plan, allowing office resources to be used at home, changes to compensation, or ensuring you have a robust Employee Assistance Program (a service to help employees at all levels and their dependants who have personal concerns that affect their personal well-being and/or work performance). Many of your employees likely have children or other responsibilities on their plate, so being flexible when it comes to working hours is a must. Already have these programs in place? That’s great – ensure you’re reminding people that they’re there for them to utilize.  

In my experience, (and I’m sure yours, as well), there is no right answer as to what your new normal should look like; with the climate of our country constantly changing, as well as having no idea what the future holds, you ultimately have to do what feels right. Something I’ve stuck to throughout this entire journey is to keep employees’ wellbeing at the forefront of every decision. Continue to have those important conversations and keep communication flowing throughout the entirety of the process – it’ll ultimately pay off in the end (whatever that looks like). 

Photo by Maxime on Unsplash

Photo by Cherrydeck on Unsplash