Considerations before reopening your office

IStock_000049546004_XXXLargeReopening your office isn’t as simple as unlocking the office door. Consider several factors before jumping to any reopening decision, starting with a couple of questions:

  1. Are our employees still productive with the office closed?
  2. Are our clients’ needs being met?

If the answer to both is “yes,” then what’s the rush to reopen? Understandably, you and your employees may be a little stir-crazy being at home, or maybe you’re frustrated paying rent for unused office space. Neither are good reasons to rush to reopen and risk employee safety. Perhaps now is a better time to consider boosting employee morale or focus on a long-term virtual solution that keeps clients and employees safe and shows that you care. There’s a session at this year’s all-virtual ENGAGE2020 (July 20-24) on enabling remote workers and virtual office.

If you answered “no” to either of these questions, it might be time to consider reopening the office (as long as state and local laws allow for it).

Create your plan.

While it’s unrealistic to plan for every scenario, it is crucial to think through likely situations.

Over the past couple of months, “social distancing” has become part of everyone’s vocabulary, but that doesn’t mean everyone interprets it the same way. Some people may only feel comfortable in spaces with everyone wearing a mask, while others may feel masks are too restrictive.

This is why you must determine the new protocols for your office. Will you require everyone to wear face masks in the building, or will it be optional? Will employees have temperature checks at work or do you expect them to manage that at home? What will happen with those high-touch surfaces such as the community coffee pot or elevators?

Each firm will have different needs and considerations, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created a decision tree to help you think through scenarios. Be sure to also consider privacy laws for temperature checks and mandatory illness disclosure.

GettyImages-488337221Gather employee input.

You’ve probably been thinking about reopening since your office closed, but your employees may not be comfortable with the idea. According to a PwC pulse survey, 64% of CFOs said they’re “very confident” their company can create a safe workplace environment. In another survey, 70% of workers said something would prevent them from returning to the office. Each person has a unique home situation. Even small, close-knit offices or teams don’t know the ins and outs of each employee’s health history or family situation.

Open conversations may gather the best feedback. But, if you’re in a larger office, an anonymous survey may be better. Regardless of the method, it will help morale to gather staff insights. Find out how they feel about coming back to the office, what they struggle with at home and what works well in virtual environments. This not only will help them feel heard but may enlighten you on employees who are more productive and happier working from home.

Depending on the firm size and culture, a one-size-fits-all policy for returning may not be the right approach. If some employees are happier at home and still producing quality work, it’s OK to allow them to stay put while others who are eager to return do so with new in-office policies.

Communicate your plan.

Once you update policies and put a plan in place, you must communicate the information to employees to make reopening successful.

This could be a handout for them to print and pin in their cube. Maybe it’s updating and distributing the employee handbook to include the new protocols. It could be a virtual town hall to allow them to ask questions. It’s important to make sure everyone agrees on expectations and obligations for the policies and timeline.

Be nimble and patient.

Yes, you spent a lot of time planning for the reopening and communicating it. But there may be things that simply don’t work as planned. Remember that people are people and each situation is unique. Allow open lines of communication with employees to keep morale high and instill trust.

Remember that this is the first time any of us will deal with a situation like this, so there’s no one right way to reopen. Be kind with yourself and your staff as you all navigate this process together.

Erin K. Carson, PMP, Manager – Young Member Initiatives — Association of International Certified Professional Accountants