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Returning to the office after COVID-19: What to expect

Umbrella is back in the workplace – here’s what we’ve learned so far.

Returning to the office following COVID-19 elicits mixed emotions: joy, excitement, fear, anxiety, uncertainty. After well over a year of working remotely, it’s clear the road to full-capacity office work will be long – especially since the pandemic is far from over. Here at Umbrella, we’ve already started the journey. At 60 days in, we’re ready to share what we’ve learned so far. Read on to discover how we’re creating a safe and productive work environment while successfully balancing remote and in-office work. 

 

What challenges can you expect when returning to the office?

To help you prepare your business for the challenges ahead, here are some of the main roadblocks we faced when returning to the office and how we got past them.   

Health and safety 

Health and safety was our primary concern when returning to the office. We first confirmed with each of our employees that they were comfortable with coming back. The majority of our employees are vaccinated and we are also following CDC guidelines. In addition, we are taking practical precautions such as frequently cleaning communal areas, encouraging regular hand washing or sanitizing, and requiring mask-wearing onsite.

Mixed reactions

Every employee’s situation is different, meaning not everyone will share in the excitement of returning to the office. It’s important to remember that some people are experiencing heightened anxiety as a result of the pandemic. Others face additional pressures like childcare or caring for a vulnerable relative. Because of this, we found blanket work policies are best avoided. 

By asking your employees what they are comfortable with, you can develop an approach that protects their mental and physical wellbeing, as well as that of their families. We conducted a survey to find out what our staff wanted. The results showed a clear preference for a hybrid work model integrating remote and in-office work.

Striking the right balance 

Finding the right balance between WFH (work from home) and WFO (work from office) was our next challenge. Using a hybrid work from home model, we began by bringing all staff into the office for just one day per week, on Wednesdays. This hybrid remote approach has been successful – the team energy level is high when we are together, allowing us to collaborate, innovate, and revive our company culture. Other companies we know of are trying variations of two to four days in the office. Undoubtedly, you’ll want to experiment to find the best solution for your workforce. 

Defining your focus

If you decide to return to the office part-time, you’ll need to prioritize tasks that require in-person interaction. At Umbrella, we have dedicated time for teams to meet face to face, as this promotes idea generation and innovation. As mentioned above, we also recognized the need to nurture our company culture after such a long period spent apart. To revive the social element of work, we welcomed staff back with catered lunches for the first month. In July, we also hosted our first company event since the pandemic began, a trip to a Royals game – we certainly missed this all-important team building during Covid.

 

Which changes are here to stay?

While some changes brought on by the pandemic are – hopefully – temporary, others are here to stay. One of the key lessons learned from COVID-19 is the importance of being agile. By continuing to embrace the following, we hope to remain successful no matter what the “new normal” brings.

Hybrid work model

Now we’ve embraced the hybrid model of WFH and WFO, there’s no going back. Although like many businesses, we were skeptical at first about productivity on the work from home model, our employees have proven themselves and are doing great.

Umbrella fully understands the joys of working from home – peace and quiet (for some), no waiting for the restroom, no commute, a better work-life balance – but we also recognize the value of coming together in the workplace. Not only do people have the tools to collaborate more effectively and work more comfortably in the office, they may also share a greater sense of purpose and belonging. When we asked our team members what they missed most about the office, they cited in-person communication and chance encounters at the water cooler. As we’ve already touched on, no one size fits all so finding the right balance is key.

Remote technology

For this new hybrid model to succeed, the right technology is a necessity. Employees need the ability to communicate and collaborate effectively both in-person and remotely. Therefore, we have invested more heavily in laptops and concentrating on maintaining secure remote access to our network. 

Security awareness

As the pandemic evolved, so did hackers. This means employee security awareness training is more important than ever. We will continue to monitor the threat vectors, such as sophisticated phishing and business email compromise methods, and communicate them to our employees and clients through training and simulation tests.

 

Our 5 top tips for returning to the office

If you do decide returning to in-person work is right for your organization, here are five top tips based on what we’ve learned.

1. Be prepared

Get your office ready for the “new normal” by creating COVID-friendly protocols that strike a balance between WFH and WFO. Before calling staff into the office, spend a day with your IT team making sure that all equipment is operational and ready to go. 

2. Prioritize safety

The last thing you want is an outbreak in your office. Ensure you follow CDC guidelines to keep your employees safe. Depending on the size of your office and your collaborative requirements, you could alternate teams to facilitate social distancing. Since the situation is still evolving, listen for updates and be ready to adapt to maintain a safe and healthy space. 

3. Communicate

Employee buy-in is essential for a successful return to office work. To achieve the perfect balance of quality work and happy employees, listen to your staff. Survey them to check if they are comfortable meeting face to face before announcing team meetings and schedules. Carry out orientation on their return and continue to provide regular updates on any business changes, safety concerns, plans, and actions. Support your team leaders by providing tips on how to lead in uncertain times.

4. Be flexible

One thing we’ve learned over the past 18 months is the importance of adaptability and agility. Make sure your employees feel supported by leadership and colleagues in WFH and WFO scenarios and continue to review, evaluate, and make changes accordingly. 

5. Have fun

It’s been well over a year since you’ve been in the office, with team-building activities during Covid few and far between, so when your employees return, drum up some excitement and show your appreciation. Plan a company meeting to welcome staff back and encourage teams to meet in person if they’re comfortable doing so. Create a welcoming environment by providing food, individually wrapped snacks, and drinks. Consider hosting a company welcome back event. 

 

What has the pandemic taught you? We’d love to hear from you. If you need help planning and executing your return to the office, Umbrella has your back. We can help you ensure equipment is running efficiently, create business continuity plans, and select the right technology for remote work productivity and security. Get in touch to find out more.

Let’s get started!

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