The COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on in-person working, but with the lifting of lockdowns and vaccine roll-out successes, you may now find yourself welcoming your team back to the office. If you’re reopening your office doors, and your colleagues are returning to work after lockdown, this article is for you.
In this welcome-back-to-work guide, we’ll help you to:
- Plan effective return-to-work communications
- Keep employee wellbeing a priority
- Make that first team meeting a success
- Greet your new hires for the first time
- Adapt to new ways of working.
How to Welcome Your Teams Back to Work After Lockdown
Returning to work after lockdown and COVID-19 can be tricky - for both you, as the employer, and your employees - so here are some of our top tips to help you give a warm (and safe) “welcome back to the office!” to your colleagues.
Create Clear Company-wide Comms
When it comes to planning your employees’ return-to-work, one of the most important aspects is creating and distributing clear company-wide comms. This helps reassure your colleagues and keep them well informed throughout the process.
Before you reopen the office, you should give your employees plenty of time to prepare. Going back to work after COVID isn’t straight-forward, so they’ll need plenty of notice to work out a safe commute, arrange childcare, buy new work clothes and sort out anything else they need to get in order before they go back.
Your back-to-work comms should span across a range of channels so everyone in the company is given the opportunity to read them. That could include email, Slack, intranet articles and an announcement in your company all-hands meeting. The more channels you cover with your back-to-work message, the better.
Return to Work Email - Checklist
Crafting a comprehensive back-to-work email should be an essential part of your office reopening comms. Use our checklist below to see what you should include in your email (and other channels):
- A set date for the official office reopening
- An outline of the specific COVID-19 health and safety measures you have in place to keep employees safe
- What you expect from employees returning to the office (e.g. wearing masks in communal spaces, taking regular COVID tests, etc.)
- Instructions on which days employees can come into the office (if using team rotas)
- A desk booking system if necessary
- An emphasis on flexibility and wellbeing
- A designated person of contact for any employee concerns or questions.
Return to Work Form - Checklist
In addition to your back-to-work email comms, you could also send out a return-to-work readiness survey, or form, to get a better idea of how your colleagues are feeling about going back to the office. This will give you invaluable insights to help you shape your office reopening plans and the way you and your teams work moving forward. This way you can address your employees’ actual concerns, rather than guessing their needs. Here’s a checklist of questions you could include in the survey:
- Would you like to return to the office when it officially reopens?
- Do you feel comfortable returning to the workplace?
- Do you feel like we’ve taken enough health and safety precautions?
- How many days per week would you like to work from the office moving forward?
- Do you feel capable of successfully carrying out the responsibilities of your role as you return to the workplace?
- Is there any special equipment you need to work in the office?
- How can we make your return to work the best it can be?
- Do you know who you can raise concerns with or provide additional feedback to?
Take a Flexible & Phased Return to Work Approach
Many offices have been closed during the pandemic, with employees either working from home full-time or taking furlough. During this time, employees have created new routines, enjoyed different ways of working and overcome the challenges of working within a distributed team. Because of this, a flexible and phased return to work is essential.
For example, in the UK the Prime Minister has advised a “gradual return to work”. This is a sensible approach that allows employees to adapt and go back to work at their own pace, while ensuring that the office doesn’t reach full capacity before it’s safe to do so.
While many are excited to go back to work after lockdown and meet colleagues once more, it’s important to remember that not everyone feels 100% comfortable with the transition out of lockdown, whether that’s to do with health and safety concerns or simply a preference for remote working.
Here are just some of the ways you can create a flexible, phased return to work to keep your employees’ safety and wellbeing at the forefront:
- Use your back-to-work survey results to gauge employee sentiments and action feedback
- Ensure that managers and their team members are having productive return-to-work conversations prior to the office reopening
- Listen to employee feedback and action it
- Stagger working hours to avoid busy commutes and office footfall
- Assign specific office days to teams to avoid reaching office capacity too quickly
- Make returning to the office optional
- Opt for a hybrid work model or a remote-friendly approach, where employees are empowered to choose their preferred working style.
Give Employees a Welcome-back Gift
To give your colleagues a warm welcome back to work, you could leave a surprise gift on their desks ahead of their return. This welcome-back gift could include practical items, such as masks and hand sanitiser, or fun items like individually wrapped sweet treats or wellbeing hampers. Here are some of our favourite return-to-office gift ideas:
- Essentials pack, including hand sanitizer, mask, and branded reusable water bottle
- Desk plant
- Cupcakes, brownies or a box of chocolates
- Office snack box full of nutritious nibbles
- Self care hamper, including candles, tea bags, mindfulness journals etc.
- Subscriptions to streaming services to help employees unwind outside of work.
Plan Your First Team Meeting After COVID
After a year plus of Zoom meetings and Slack conversations, it’s likely you haven’t sat down for a physical team meeting in a while. You may feel a little pressure to make it perfect, so here are some team meeting ideas to help you plan ahead.
Firstly, you’ll need to book an appropriately sized meeting room well in advance. You should ensure there’s enough space to safely accommodate all of your in-office team members, perhaps leaving a chair between each person for social distancing. This will help your colleagues to feel safer and more comfortable with their return to the office.
You should also make sure that the meeting room is equipped with the right technology to bring your remote colleagues into the room. A HD screen for Zoom and a high-quality conference microphone are essential.
Once in the meeting room, get the conversation going by starting with some uplifting ice breakers. These could be related to work or personal achievements, but try to keep the conversation positive and set the tone for the rest of the meeting. If you need more inspiration, here are some fun employee ice breaker ideas.
Now that you’ve caught up with each other, it’s time to get productive. Your first team meeting in the office is a great time to throw around ideas, nail down your strategy and plan ahead for the next quarter. Make use of the whiteboard or get creative with sticky notes - just be sure to include your remote workers too!
Keep the discussion on-point and clearly define the amount of time you dedicate to this exercise. If you’re too unstructured, you run the risk of your meeting devolving into an unproductive session where people leave wondering why they should be excited about being back together.
How to Meet New Employees for the First Time: the Do's & Don’ts
If your company has hired talent remotely during the pandemic, you’ve probably not had a chance to meet and greet them face-to-face yet - at least not outside of a screen! Navigating that first in-person meeting may feel daunting for both parties. To help you out, here are our dos and don’ts for meeting new employees for the first time:
Meeting New Employees: The Do’s
- Take them on a tour of the office
- Introduce them to each member of their immediate team
- Run them through the office rules and expectations
- Arrange a 1-1 meeting with their line manager
- Leave them to meet other members of the team at their own pace.
Meeting New Employees: The Don’ts
- Don’t overwhelm them - too many names and faces in one day can be confusing
- Don’t make after-work socials compulsory - some people may feel concerned about social gatherings due to COVID
- Don’t go straight in with a handshake - ask if they’re comfortable with that first (they may even prefer a COVID-friendly elbow-bump!)
Hybrid Working & How to Be Inclusive of Remote Workers
If you’re planning on adopting a hybrid or remote-friendly work model, you’ll need to make sure that your welcome-back-to-work activities and celebrations are inclusive of remote workers and those who aren’t ready to come back to the office just yet. Here are some tips:
- Use technology to bring remote colleagues ‘into’ the office for meetings
- Ensure they have the right equipment and set-up to work effectively
- If you’re leaving a gift on employees’ desks, you could send one to your remote colleagues too
- Keep them in the loop by sending out clear comms regularly
- Encourage cross-team socials that are remote-friendly
- Offer access to co-working spaces so remote workers can get that office atmosphere if they want it
It’s also important to continually check in with employees, both office-based and remote, to gauge how successful your hybrid work model is. You should run regular surveys and talk to your employees to find out what is working well and what else you can improve on.