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How to Prepare Your Office and Welcome Back Your Team

By Briana Iverson

As states begin to reopen, companies across the country and around the world are faced with a new dilemma: how do we make our teams feel safe when returning to work? While the situation is constantly evolving, here are seven practices for businesses to help their teams feel safe, welcomed and happy to emerge from their homes and return to the workplace.

Go the Extra Mile to Make Your Team Feel Welcomed & Appreciated

While this unprecedented experience has been unsettling for everyone, by returning to work we are entering a new chapter and acknowledging that things are getting better with each passing day. Businesses should make extra efforts to let their teams feel comfortable and appreciated as they welcome their teams back into a safe workplace environment. To make it an extra welcoming week, plan a time to reunite the team they had missed seeing every day while maintaining recommended social distancing. By holding standing meetings at each other’s desks or in a large outdoor space with ample room to spread out, or even holding a video conference meeting from within the office, you will encourage greater connection with your team. After all, we normally spend more time with our teams than our own families, so this will be a happy reunion to encourage and celebrate, even if we must keep our distance!

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Make Your Team Feel Safe, Heard & Cared For

The most important way for a business to show their team they care is by ensuring teammates feel safe, heard and taken care of. With the new normal of constant handwashing, sanitizing and minimal close contact, be sure to supply your office with plenty of easily accessible necessities before your team arrives in the office. By stocking up on hand sanitizer, soap, masks, gloves, antibacterial wipes, tissues and EmergenC or other vitamin supplements, you can instantly put your team at greater ease by ensuring them you place their needs and health first. To go the extra mile, place a mini care package at each team member’s desk, complete with a travel-sized hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes and a note of appreciation to really make them feel extra cared for!

In addition to providing ample sanitizing supplies, you can also insist that team members wash their hands upon return from outside the office, and place signs around the office as reminders for everyone to regularly wash their hands. As a courtesy to teams, businesses can minimize outside guests from visiting, unless previously approved by the company. This is one more small measure companies can take to help ease the anxiety and worries of the pandemic.

To help make your team members feel heard and validated, offer an open forum of an anonymous suggestion box (or a virtual suggestion box via email) where team members feel safe to express any concerns. Even more importantly, seriously consider these concerns, and take action or change protocols if needed. This will let your team know their opinions are valued and that the company is taking proactive measures to protect everyone’s well-being.

Take Time to Clean & Reorganize

New era, new workspace! Maybe your first day back will be less of a business day, and more of a reorganization day to start this new era off fresh and organized! Businesses can take this moment as a time to reset, and encourage their teams to minimize clutter, clean out their desks and recycle papers that can be saved digitally. We all know how good it feels to be in a clean space, and by starting off with a new energy, you can reenergize your team with cleanliness, organization and positivity. Play some fun music and start cleaning!

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Spread Out Your Team More Than Before

For many weeks, social distancing and isolation have been critical keys to help flatten the curve. It’s only natural for team members to be weary of coming back to an environment of many people together in a confined space, especially if they work in open office floorplans that have become so popular in the past decade. While this may take a degree of reconfiguration, there are actions businesses can take to spread out their team to ease concern. If possible, situate people so they are at least six feet apart, stationed at every other desk, configure desks so that teammates face the same direction (and not face each other) to mitigate the fear of sneezing, coughing and other germs, and utilize desk dividers. Have access to windows? Open them up to circulate fresh air, or invest in an air purification machine.

Over the past months, teammates have become accustomed to video calls and virtual meetings, so why not carry on that tradition into the workplace? Encourage calls instead of face to face conversations, and virtual meetings instead of gathering in conference rooms. If possible, try to limit the amount of people in a meeting, providing plenty of space in between everyone for ease of mind.

Embrace Work From Home & Telecommuting As Options

While telecommuting has grown increasingly popular in the past few years, the COVID-19 pandemic forced companies across the nation to abruptly adopt this trend, opening up a new alternative that may not have been previously considered by businesses. While some teammates may prefer to separate work from home, others may actually prefer working at home, avoiding long morning and evening commutes, with little to no impact on workload and productivity. Software like WebEx, Zoom, Slack and Microsoft Teams, and technology like video phones and computer cameras have made it increasingly easier to work from home while staying connected from afar. Some team members even report higher productivity than in the workplace itself, having less distractions at home, with a quiet space to focus. If your company has the capability to offer this as an option, this may be a great way to help lessen contact (for now) and give peace of mind for team members who are weary to go out into the public.

Education is Key

Create your own “task force” within your communications or HR department who can distribute weekly emails regarding symptoms, awareness and provide clear options available to teammates who are feeling under the weather. Take measures to inform the company on daily or weekly precautions your company is taking, such as enforcing a handwashing policy, hiring a cleaning crew to wipe down all common areas on a regular basis, and limiting guests. It goes a long way to know that a business is looking out for the best interest of its team members, and by keeping this conversation and awareness at the forefront, teammates will be more and more aware of their own actions as well.

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Incorporate a Little More Fun in the Workplace

Last but not least, incorporate more fun into the workplace! While this will be an unsettling time that we hopefully will not experience in our lifetime to this magnitude again, it’s important to lighten the mood and celebrate our teams and their hard work and dedication to the company and its culture! Celebrate small victories, reward workplace safety ideas and host fun contests.

As the world begins to open back up and companies welcome their team members back into the workplace, it is critically important to recognize, understand and mitigate the worries of our teams. By making your team feel safe, heard and cared for, incorporating fun in the workplace, and establishing clear modes of communication, we can all come back to work feeling more at ease, and celebrate that we all came out of this stronger than ever before!

Briana Iverson is marketing director at Hughes Marino, a global corporate real estate advisory firm that exclusively represents tenants and buyers. Contact Briana at 1-844-662-6635 or briana@hughesmarino.com to learn more.

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