How to Successfully Return Your Team to the Office

How to Successfully Return Your Team to the Office

If you’re an owner or manager in your business, you may have been back to the office at least a few times (or even regularly) over the past 16 months. Some owners dropped in weekly just to check mail and water the plants. Others headed in more regularly to escape the distractions of working from home, or simply because they felt they needed to make use of the space they were committed to renting.

Most other team members though have likely been working from home since March of last year, and many have decidedly mixed feelings about going back to the office now that vaccination rates are high. Some employees have expressed concerns about health and safety, and how to handle unvaccinated coworkers. Others are dreading the idea of returning to a regular commute, and the rigors that come with an inflexible daytime schedule. 

Several of our clients have made the decision during the pandemic to permanently surrender their office space, and have transitioned to a permanently remote-work model. Others though are grappling with how to plan a safe and effective return to office strategy. Here are a few tips and tricks to make your difficult planning process a little bit smoother.

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Photo by Marc Mueller on Pexels.com

Listen to your team’s concerns

Because return to office planning has been difficult to pin down due to the changing public guidelines, your team members are likely confused, scared, and generally on edge. The surest way to aggravate a difficult situation is to thrust the decision upon them without any consultation or input.

Instead, see if you can make the planning a collaborative process within your team. You may still dream of a full-scale return, but that will likely have to happen in slow increments in order to be successful. Survey your team members, have private conversations, and ask them directly what it would take to make them comfortable enough to return to the office. You may not be able to incorporate every idea put forth, but you’ll likely hear some excellent ones that will only serve to improve the working environment as you work your way back.

Also, one final tip on that note – don’t call it ‘return to work.’ Return to work is a legal term for those coming back from a layoff, and for any team members who were formally laid off then it would actually be a return to work. Most of your staff though have likely been working from home almost the entire pandemic while simultaneously juggling health and family responsibilities, so the phrase ‘return to work’ suggests that they’ve been on one long extended vacation. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“Employees will catch on quickly if they feel that a ‘collaborative process’ is just paying lip service. Ignoring suggestions outright will only harm office morale…”


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Implement those good suggestions

Listening to your team is helpful, but employees will catch on quickly if they feel that a ‘collaborative process’ is just paying lip service. Ignoring those employee suggestions outright will only harm office morale, and lead to employees believing that their concerns aren’t being taken seriously.

Employees likely have good reasons for wanting to implement some sort of hybrid or flexible office/home model. While employers are required to accommodate employees who have significant child or elder care obligations with no other reasonable workaround, many employees have likely amended their living situations during the pandemic in order to better balance work and home life in general. Some have even taken advantage of the hot real estate market and moved further out of the city since they’ve begun working exclusively from home.

See how many of the suggestions are actually feasible to implement, even if they’re better suited for a later date. Your employees will be more inclined to stick with a company that they know is sticking with them.

Want your team to have a smooth, and SAFE, return to the office? We can help!

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Focus on Health and Safety First

Even if all COVID-19 mandated protocols are suddenly lifted, it would be foolhardy to rush headfirst back into full occupancy. The initial mandated maximums will likely be at a 50% of office capacity, and even those should be heeded with caution.

Take the extra time to plan out your physical space. Make sure that employees can sufficiently distance from each other, and that contact is minimized unless necessary. Rules may be amended to allow employees to eat at their desks so that they are sufficiently distanced, or even recommend off site dining until conditions improve. Mask mandates should still be encouraged to avoid unnecessary transmission. Lastly, confirm with property management that the premises will be cleaned thoroughly on a regular basis to help allay employee’s fears.  

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Stay flexible!

 We all learned lessons over the past year and a half about workplace flexibility. Practically overnight we improvised home offices, shuffled our schedules, upended our social lives to move entirely virtually, and learned that nature has crazy ways of breaking our rigid plans.

That flexibility will be just as important in returning to an office. Scientists are already speaking about a likely fourth wave of infections this Fall, even though it’s predicted to be smaller and less catastrophic given our high vaccination rates. Even still, infections will continue, so flexibility means planning around the fact that employees may be off for several days because they or a relative have contracted the virus. Flexibility also means that provincial guidelines may change, and capacity regulations may increase or decrease accordingly. It is well worth having several plans in place in order to account for a variety of scenarios.

Lastly, when it comes to the vaccine, privacy is paramount.

Canada has benefitted from great adherence, but the reality is that not everyone will receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Some have religious objections, others are medically inadmissible, and others may be refusing for personal reasons. 

The law is still being ironed out when it comes to this specific vaccine, and it may take a few years still for cases to move through the legal system. Generally speaking though, employers should tread cautiously when it comes to implementing vaccine policies that would attempt to either mandate vaccines, or punish those who don’t receive them. Exceptions must always be made on human rights grounds, including disability and religious freedoms, but there are greater concerns as well. Courts have generally ruled in similar situations that such policies are only acceptable in safety-sensitive workplaces, and an office environment will likely not meet that threshold. 

Instead, keep doing what you’ve done so far – encourage employees to get vaccinated, and offer them ample opportunity to do so. If an employee is unable to receive the vaccine and concerned about working from an office, examine if working from home or some other protections may be reasonably available. Employers are required to accommodate employees on the grounds of disability and must do so discreetly, so consult with one of our team members if you need any guidance on making these arrangements.

Return to office planning isn’t an easy task, but we are here and ready to help. Our fractional HR team is available to serve as your HR professionals. We can offer guidance on how to best re-integrate your team into the office environment while focusing on keeping everyone safe and secure. Remember, in-person collaboration may be beneficial to your company, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of health, safety, or team morale. Contact us today to set up a consultation.


Want your team to have a smooth, and SAFE, return to the office? We can help!

Start the Conversation