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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Return to the Office: Welcoming Employees Back

With cities reopening across the U.S., many offices have begun to reopen, too. However, with news of COVID-19 cases continuing to rise, among the biggest challenges leaders face is managing employees’ mental and emotional distress associated with returning to the office.  

While following the CDC, state and local health guidelines is crucial in preparing for reentry, employers should also consider additional ways to support employees both mentally and emotionally.  

Here are 7 ideas for how employers can ease employees’ anxieties before reentering the office: 

  1. Company-Wide Communication: Create an open and honest dialogue addressing the discomfort and anxiety employees may be feeling about coming back into the office. By surveying employees preemptively before reentering the office, leadership can be aware of the reactions ahead of time and address them appropriately. 

  2. Assigned Wellness Advisors: Employees will likely have questions as they begin to return to the office. Assigning a specific advisor to contact with questions can help employees feel more knowledgeable and at ease. This could be an HR representative or a member of the leadership team that has been involved with planning the return to the office. These advisors should be prepared to answer questions about the office, as well as support employees struggling with COVID-19-related anxieties. Consider also creating a specific email address or survey where staff can submit questions anonymously too. Ensure any electronic communication is monitored regularly and staff know how quickly questions will be answered. 

  3. Frequent Check-ins: Encourage managers to check in with direct reports regularly, both before and during reentry, to see how they are adjusting. By empathizing with employee concerns, they may feel encouraged and less isolated.  

  4. Promoting Mental and Telehealth Benefits: The last few months have likely been very stressful for employees, and thoughts about returning to the office may not help ease anxietiesRemind employees of the relevant health benefits available to them. If able, consider hosting other wellness events, like book clubs, social distanced yoga classes, meditation or providing other mental health resources 

  5. Social Distanced Events: While working from home, employees likely have been missing socializing with coworkers. Consider hosting safe, social distanced team activities such as an outdoor barbeque or happy hour for those comfortable with attending. Interacting with coworkers in a fun setting may help to off-set some of the anxieties initially presented with returning to the office. 

  6. Branding your Return: Consider branding your return to the office in a way that is positive and personalized to the company culture. Along with branded social distancing and policy reminders, consider including encouraging notes and team slogans on signage around the officeWhile many offices are encouraging or requiring employees to wear masks or other PPE throughout the extent of the workdayconsider designing branded masks and preparing packages of PPE and sanitizers if possible. This can help promote camaraderie while ensuring every employee has access to proper PPE 

  7. Train employees ahead of time: Prior to returning to the office, consider hosting a virtual training to discuss expectations and lay out expectations for what the new world of work will look like. Addressing this ahead of time leaves less to the imagination and can help provide some comfort and security with less uncertainty.  

While planning your return to the office, give employees time to prepare. If possible, inform employees of when they will be expected to return to the office even months in advance, even if it is just an estimate and subject to change. Having plenty of time to mentally prepare and a specific date in mind can help reduce the uncertainty of the situation.  

For more information on communication strategies, social distancing office policies, office reconfiguration and more, download our Return to the Office Guide here.