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Building a Return-to-Work Plan

The COVID-19 pandemic posed unprecedented challenges — and for businesses, these challenges persist as we move back towards normality. The reality is that in a workforce permanently altered by the pandemic, there is no true return to normal.

The new ways of working we adopted to keep people safe will not be going anywhere — they’re part of the new landscape of working. Instead, remote and distributed roles will be slowly and cautiously re-integrated with on-premise work.

Exactly how and when that happens will look different for every company, department and team depending on their location, industry, and needs. That’s why we created The Hybrid Workforce Playbook: a bold, action-oriented guide to reimagining the future of work and building it into reality.

In Part 3 of the Hybrid Workforce Playbook, we’ll explore how to make your employees’ safety, health, and comfort the foundation of your return-to-office plan.

A Healthy and Sustainable Workplace

When crafting their plans to recall employees, many organizations want a simple, step-by-step process. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers or one-size-fits-all solutions here. The only constant in this process will be keeping your employees’ health and safety the absolute priority at all times.

The first and most important step of returning to the office is knowing you can promise your team a safe environment. Because the specifics of COVID-friendly workplaces are determined by public health authorities, and vary greatly depending on location, we will not attempt to provide overly specific guidance here.

But a physically safe and healthy work environment is just the beginning. Few organizations will bring all their on-premise workers back at once, and for many, the new hybrid model is here to stay. The implications of this radical change in our working lives on long-term mental health and cognitive agility needs to be taken seriously.

Much of the current workforce has spent their entire adult lives in full-time, on-premise jobs. With five days and 40+ hours a week spent at work, it’s crucial to make an effort to maintain the relationships, positive habits, personal growth, and social interactions that historically centred around the office.

The goal here is not to create panic or sound an alarm about the future of our industry. On the contrary, the new hybrid model has many benefits. However, this transition should be taken seriously for what it is — a profound life change for hundreds of thousands of workers.

Here are a few steps to consider for a well-planned return to work.

Bring Leadership and Infrastructure Back First

It’s critical that executives and managers return to work as soon as they can safely do so. Leading the way demonstrates your leadership team’s confidence in your company’s safety protocols and their ability to protect employees. It also shows empathy and solidarity by making it clear that employees are not alone, and that management is beside them as they navigate an uncertain, or even frightening experience. In uncertain times like these, leadership is even more important than usual.

Following or concurrent with leadership will be the return of infrastructure-based roles, such as IT, Environmental