Returning to the Office: Policies and Procedures


April 21, 2021  |  John Wiese


How to facilitate a smooth transition back to the workplace

It’s beginning to look like we are out of the woods. What once seemed like this distant, unattainable milestone has almost come: some semblance of normalcy. COVID-19 cases are falling across the country, and vaccine counts are steadily and consistently climbing–with many states having vaccinated nearly 50% of their population. All of this culminates into offices opening back up and people returning to work. Though, despite the relative success of vaccine distribution and regardless of whether or not employees are eager to get back to the office, companies need to be cautious these next few months and ensure that employee health and safety is top of mind.

Returning to the office after COVID is turning into a much more contentious topic than we could have anticipated at this time last year. Many people have gotten accustomed to the work from home lifestyle; they find it safe, comfortable, and convenient. For these folks, the return to the traditional workplace is likely a significant source of anxiety. We have learned to be cautious leaving our homes, become hyper-cognizant of where and how germs are spread, and come to take increasing solace in our personal space. For others, the return to work will feel like a return to normalcy. The comfort and routine of a daily commute, the social aspect of being near coworkers, and the simple joy of not sitting in your home all day long is appealing! This dichotomy may be tricky to manage. Regardless of your organization’s reason for opening up your office again, this needs to be executed with care. In order to ensure a smooth transition, employers need to focus on three key items: clear communication, firm health and safety policies, and diligent procedures for adherence.

Clearly Communicate Your Plans and Policies

If your company is requiring that employees return to the office, it is crucial that you clearly communicate why that is the case–clear communication and transparency

Returning to the Office after COVID: Policies and Procedures

should be a foundational organizational norm. Maybe you find that the traditional office space leads to more productive communication and collaboration, and it is important that teams work closely together. Communicate this point by saying that the new workspace is desiccated to interaction and collaboration. Consider splitting the week up so that certain teams come in on certain days, that way you don’t the entire office sharing the space at the same time.

It is also reasonable to choose to go back to work to revitalize your company culture. Did you see a decline in quality of communication, a lack of empathy, and a weakened perception of corporate culture? Then transparently explain that to your employees, presenting the data to back up your claims. Explain that sharing a workplace could help reinvigorate working relationships, deepen employees’ sense of belonging, and encourage engagement. If you lack the data necessary to make these claims, consider utilizing Emtrain’s workplace culture diagnostic platform to gain the insights necessary to justify organizational changes. Regardless of your reasoning, clear communication and relevant data will help ensure a smooth and compliant transition.

Build Firm COVID-19 Health & Safety Policies

Clear communication is the precursor, but what will truly ensure a successful transition back to work are clearly defined health and safety policies designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and consequently avoid another office closure. Send out your COVID-19 Safety Policies at the same time you communicate the organization’s reasons for returning, as well as a timeline for the transition. Remember to use a policy acknowledgment tool to ensure that everyone has read and agreed to the requirements.

A thorough COVID-19 Office Safety Policy should include:

    • Employee Selection Parameters
      • Are all employees required to return to the office, or will some be allowed to stay home?
    • Screening Procedures
      • Will your organization require that employees are tested for COVID-19 prior to returning? Will you ask for proof of vaccination?
    • Face Covering Policies
      • We recommend that you allow employees to be maskless in their private spaces, but use a mask in meeting rooms and common areas.
    • Physical Distancing Requirements
      • If your office is largely made up of many desks side by side, consider only allowing employees at every other desk. Limit the number of people allowed in every conference room. Mark 6-foot space intervals in communal areas or wherever people form lines.
    • Workplace Hygiene
      • This comes down to hand washing, wiping down surfaces before and after use, and rules around sharing office supplies.
    • Firm Plans for Illnesses
      • If someone is sick or contracts COVID after being in the office, it is important that they communicate that with the appropriate person so they can take the necessary measures to ensure that relevant employees are made aware and there are no further infections.
    • When to Stay Home
      • If you are sick, stay home! Lay our guidelines for how long someone should wait before returning to work following an illness, or following someone in their household’s illness.

These are just a few simple yet vital factors to consider when building your safety policies. For more thorough guidance on what you policy could look like, download our Return to Work Policy Template, which further fleshes out these ideas.

Ensure Procedures Complement Policies

In addition to these policies, you may want to set up some tools and procedures to make everyone feel safer at work. Emtrain created a reservation system for those folks who want to go back into the office. We are only allowing a limited number of employees in at a time, so a reservation system ensures that not too many people show up at one. Again, we encourage you to use a policy acknowledgement tool to ensure that everyone has seen your guidelines, and can be held accountable.

While the fight against COVID-19 is not yet over, and it will likely be with us for years to come, the beginning of the end is in sight. We encourage our entire Emtrain community to proceed forward with caution, and continue to make the health and safety of its employees the number one priority. If you are interested in what tools, microlessons, or courses Emtrain has to offer that can both ensure a safe transition back to work and gauge employee sentiment around organization changes, contact us for a free demo!


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