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Preparing Your Workplace For Employee Return

Published September 10, 2020 (last updated February 24, 2021) -
employee preparing the workplace for return

Six months into the COVID-19 restrictions and it’s beginning to feel like there is no end in sight. While many businesses worked hard to ensure a successful return to work, others have been forced to alter their return to workplace to stop the spread and protect our teams and communities.

The effects of COVID are going to be lasting, and our workplaces will need to reflect this. We cannot, and we should not, expect a normal return to work following such upheaval. The good news is there are steps that we can take to adapt to this “new normal”, making necessary changes to our facilities that complement our overall business objectives.

Here’s how to plan your workplace environment in the age of COVID-19 and beyond:

Determine If A Physical Workspace Still Suits Your Business And Its Purpose

In the early days of the first COVID-19 lockdown, many of us scrambled to determine how we could get our teams working from home quickly, how we would maintain communication and community, how we would stay connected and productive, and all without sacrificing our mental health. So many businesses who had resisted the Work from Home model, yet overnight our systems were disrupted as we found strategies and solutions to maintain our teams and business communities whilst working in isolation from each other.

As things have calmed many find themselves asking the question – why return? And it’s a valid question. The answer will be different for most businesses, and there are a few areas you need to consider:

Branding & Company Culture

If brand is the outward manifestation of a company’s values, beliefs and goals are you able to instill and reinforce these to your employees without a physical workplace? We all know the importance of retaining high performing employees, but what about the importance of brand loyalty to employees, as well as clients? Similarly the importance of friendships and support in the work environment, and their overall affect on company culture, should not be overlooked.

Collaboration & Productivity

Consider your workforce, their purpose and work activities. Are there risks of silos developing in and exclusively working from home arrangement? Does the practical work of some roles demand a physical presence, where others working from home is entirely possible? Where some thrive working from home and through telecommuting many need the convenience of spontaneous and as-it-happens person to person engagement to be able to collaborate effectively.

Training, Monitoring & Safety

What kind of training do you need to give new starters, what kind of ongoing training do you provide to your team, and how often? With workplace liability extending to the physical home do you have confidence in your checks and systems to protect your staff and your business? How are you checking in with your team holistically and ensuring their physical safety and wellbeing?

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Plan your Return to Work with Purpose

Ever-changing requirements and regulations are being mandated by State and Federal governments as they adapt to an evolving situation. For employers, it can be hard to see through the flow of information what is important, what is needed and the best next steps.

Before trying to navigate this (which we’ll talk through below) talk you to your teams and find out what works for them. A survey, open table round chat or even a simple email asking for feedback can help you understand what your people feel and how to maximise their working experience to improve your business and culture. If you’ve already identified that a physical workspace is required, bring your team along for the journey as you plan the eventual return to work and design a potential WFH integration model that suits.

Protect your Spaces

If you’re making the decision to maintain a physical workspace make sure you’re doing all you can to protect your teams and protect your business by comprehensively sanitising your facilities.  There is cleaning, and then there is sanitisation. Cleaning works by removing existing bacteria and viruses from surfaces as a reactive measure. Sanitization barrier protectants such as Zoono, however, instead coat surfaces with an active microbial barrier which continue disinfecting surfaces for up to thirty days. This means that if a surface received bacteria or viruses from touch or airborne transmission, instead of that bacteria being alive and transferable to someone else upon touch, the virus is killed instantly by the barrier protectant. Instead of having to repeatedly sanitise and disinfect surfaces to kill viruses that may have been sitting exposed on those surfaces, the virus is killed the moment it hits it.

Maintain Employee Experience

It is important to identify and understand what works best for each individual workforce and how our office space can start working as an asset, rather than a liability. Organisations like Google, Facebook and Amazon are renowned for having innovative and engaging workspaces that make them enviable places to work. The good news is you don’t necessarily need a ping-pong table, bowling alley or yoga room to make your workspace a place productive and engaging. Simple ongoing maintenance and gradual cost-effective improvements can lead to lasting and effective change for businesses. Scheduled maintenance helps ensure that not only is your brand protected but demonstrates to your employees that you value them and want to provide them with a workspace they can be proud of. Being house proud is not restricted to the home! A water cooler chat doesn’t get very far when the water cooler isn’t working any more.

This article was originally prepared for Intact Group, a property maintenance company providing trade and project services Australia-wide for 24 years.  This article has been localised for New Zealand.

About Employsure

Employsure is one of New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisers to small and medium businesses, with over 5,500 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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