As the coronavirus situation continues to evolve, businesses are facing an unprecedented situation. 

Leaders and HR departments alike are asking themselves when, how, and even if their teams should return to the office.  

Many businesses across the country are still legally required to keep their facilities shut down. However, businesses with more flexibility under the law are faced with a plethora of decisions here. 

Should employees go back to the office? How soon should people return to the office? How do we keep everyone safe and comfortable? If employees return in waves, who goes first? And how do we get the best performance from our teams as we navigate this unusual situation? 

These are all questions we should be thinking about – and there are no easy answers here. The truth is that every leader will have to decide what’s best for their organization 

That said, we do have a few pointers for leaders and HR teams to keep in mind as we shift toward reopening. 

Do You Have to Bring Employees Back at All? 

Before developing a plan to bring team members back to the office, it’s worth considering whether that’s actually the best course of action. 

For many teams, working on-site is non-negotiable. However, there are also a lot of teams that are now discovering they can operate just as effectively while totally remote. 

If you continue to work remote, you can offer your teams greater flexibility and cut a lot of expenses. However, the downside is that you risk eroding your culture. Furthermore, many people prefer a traditional office space and the opportunity to work with others face to face.  

There are no right or wrong answers here. Remote may be an excellent option for one company and a terrible idea for another. Maybe you’ll find that a balance is best, with some employees returning and others working mostly remote. Alternatively, you might stagger hours so that everyone can return but at different times.  

The important part is that you are carefully evaluating what’s best for your company. If there’s one good thing that has come out of this pandemic, it’s offering us the opportunity to think critically about the status quo. Just because you’ve always required teams to work on-site doesn’t mean you have to do that moving forward. 

It’s Not Enough to Keep Employees Safe 

Any business leaders and HR teams worth their salt are thinking about the safety of our teams. It goes without saying that this should be our #1 priority.  

However, there’s an element to this discussion that a lot of people are missing. It’s not enough to keep our employees safe – we must make sure they actually feel safe and comfortable as well. 

Our team’s performance hinges greatly on how we treat them. If team members get the sense that we aren’t taking their safety seriously or that we aren’t concerned with their wellbeing, performance will suffer accordingly.  

On top of any safety precautions we take, we have to communicate openly and transparently with our teams. The key is to let them know what steps we’re taking to protect their health and explain why were making the decisions we make. Lastly, we must stress that we’re open to feedback, thoughts, concerns and suggestions. 

This is a chance to be transparent and demonstrate our genuine concern for our team’s wellbeing. Doing that will not only drive performance today but builds loyalty and morale for the future. 

Give Employees Choice and Flexibility Wherever Possible 

Business leaders and HR departments need to keep in mind that everyone is reacting to this situation differently. Some people are terrified to leave their home, while others are eager to return to the office for a change of scenery. You never know who has an immunocompromised family member at home, for example. 

All these responses are valid, and we need to be cognizant of our team’s different needs. That’s why one of the best things we can do right now is offer flexibility where we can. If it’s possible to give your teams the choice to safely return to the office or work from home, then that’s probably a great step to take. 

The key is making sure we don’t let this flexibility jeopardize anyone’s safety, our performance, or our customers satisfaction. Again, this is a prime opportunity to reevaluate the status quo.  

Furthermore, none of your decisions need to be permanent. This situation is incredibly fluid and changing daily. If something is not working out, you can always change course later on. Don’t let fear of making a mistake paralyze you. 

Set Expectations for Team Members Working Under Unusual Circumstances 

There’s a lot of evolving factors in our work these days. Working remote is obviously a big shift for a lot of people, but many individuals’ jobs are changing in other aspects as well.  

Sales teams and marketers are responding to a radically different market. Many professionals are adapting to downsized or restructured teams. Some companies are adapting to record demand, while others pivot to entirely new opportunities to keep revenue flowing.  

All this change can leave employees feeling a lot of uncertainty. This is a great time to establish (or re-establish) clear, measurable expectations with your teams. This ensures you’re on the same page but also helps team members know what they need to do to succeed. By setting expectations, we boost morale and performance all at the same time.  

Remember That We’re in Uncharted Waters 

It’s crucial to remember that we are working through highly unusual circumstances – and will be for several months at a minimum. While it can be scary, it’s also an excellent opportunity to rethink your approach to leadership and HR.

This is the time to try new things and make changes to how you have always worked. Given how this situation continues to evolve, it’s also crucial to remember that changing course as necessary can be the difference between success and failure. Your decisions today are not set in stone!