7 Steps to Prepare for a Safe Return to the Office

In 2020, human resources teams moved at incredible speed to make sure that employees could work safely and effectively from any location. While the pandemic forced every line of business to adapt operations with very little time to prepare, HR professionals had the additional responsibility of supporting other teams as they navigated the necessary changes.

As organizations around the world return to physical office locations, there’s a lot of planning. While there has been time to develop solid plans, there’s also quite a lot of important factors to account for—new floor plans, ongoing safety efforts, new security concerns, laying plans to deal with future disruptions and more. The world of work has changed a lot in the last year and the challenge that HR teams face is to return employees to physical offices while retaining the employee-centric benefits of remote work.

Some organizations have already done this work and have resumed onsite work. Others are still in the planning stages. Either way, the road ahead involves frequent checks and adaptations to ensure safety standards are met. No matter how robust the initial plans are, the ongoing challenges of office safety will be a critical role for HR teams.

Docusign is here to help HR teams with their plans to return to brick-and-mortar workspaces with some guidance on allowing employees to work face-to-face again.

As your team makes plans to safely return to the office, here’s a checklist of important steps:

1. Take the temperature on work-from-home and hybrid models

The best source for information about your employees is usually the employees themselves. If you haven't done it already, it’s time to launch an employee readiness survey and take the employees’ pulse on important questions. Who is comfortable going back to work in the office? Who would prefer to continue working from home? What about a hybrid model? 

Before you can make plans to do what makes sense for your employees, you need to find out what it is that they want. Once you know what they want, it’s time to think about what’s realistic and make plans to set them up for success. It’s important to communicate openly at each step in the reopening process and a good way to establish that pattern is by letting the employees speak first. 

2. Plan for multiple return scenarios

Starting with the survey results, it’s time to make a plan to return to the office. Expect that the workplace will need to undergo some equipment or space configuration changes to ensure employee safety. 

In the case that your employees don’t all resume full-time work at once (don’t worry, that’s likely), you’ll need to determine which teams return to the office and when. In this case, it’s a good idea to break down your survey results by team. Are some lines of business more willing to work in the office than others? Is physical proximity more important to the success of certain parts of the company? Do new hires have unique needs? How do you stagger employee returns so that every person is getting what they need out of work in the office? There are a lot of questions that need to be asked and answered in order to build an effective return plan.

3. Generate or refresh policies 

For some aspects of employee life, existing policies just need to be adapted to match the current circumstances (remote onboarding, home office expense management, IT assistance, etc.). For others, you’ll need to start from scratch and create entirely new rules. Regardless of how much work needs to be done on these policies, it’s critical that employees always have easy access to the most current information. Here are a few Docusign tools to help you keep every employee up to date on the latest:

  • Bulk send: Any one-to-many communicator needs an easy way to send digital documents, such as policy agreements, to the appropriate people, whether it’s the entire company or specific groups 
  • Responsive signing: When employees need to review and sign policies, they should be able to do that on any device from any location
  • SMS delivery: When an employee needs timely information or has to take action on a document, their phone might be the fastest option
  • Smart sections: Give employees the best reading experience with any device by collapsing longer sections when they’re not being read

4. Create a process to return to the office 

With the policies in place and communicated to employees, the next step is to allow employees to interact with that information. Since different teams might follow different protocols, employees need a way to receive personalized information without any extra document generation work by the HR team. 

That’s where a tool like Docusign Powerforms is useful, allowing employees to generate on-demand, self-service documents for signature with no extra preparation work from HR. Data about individual employees is automatically collected into a signature-ready document that can be securely completed in a user-friendly transaction.

5. Make a decision about vaccine documentation

Some organizations may decide to require employees to be vaccinated before they return to the office. If the decision is made to require proof of vaccine, HR teams will need to generate employee consent forms, which can be created and sent to the entire employee base. It’s important to note that completing that paperwork will not be as simple as collecting a signature on each document. 

Instead, HR teams will need to use a robust tool like Docusign eSignature that allows employees to sign the document while attaching photos of their vaccine cards for documentation. With a guided signing experience, each employee can be sure that they’re providing all of the required proof of  vaccination and that it will be kept in a single envelope for easy access later. HR teams can even set up conditional routing to automatically kick off important workflows as soon as these documents are signed and submitted.   

A crucial part of managing this vaccine information is secure storage. Signed vaccine documents (and any photos that are part of that envelope) need to be stored centrally for access whenever that information is needed. Better yet, that information should be shared among HR systems via integration with tools like Workday, ServiceNow or other systems.

6. Establish guidelines for future work travel and other scenarios

Once your HR team has figured out the strategy to safely return to the office, it’s time to start developing guidelines for other common employee activities. While the sudden move to remote work in 2020 may have temporarily paused employee travel, several different types of employee expenses and in-office benefits (on-site meals, supplies, events etc.), these programs all need to be updated to get back to business as usual.

To establish effective documentation for these activities, HR teams can use standard templates. A strong template lets any member of the team create a series of consistent digital documents that can be leveraged for any frequent employee interaction.

7. Continue monitoring the employee experience

Solid return-to-office plans end the same way they start: by checking in on employee sentiment. Bringing employees back to work in a physical office is a big change and it’s important to make sure that everyone has a chance to voice their opinions throughout the process. Be sure to ask questions about employee safety and productivity as you progress through different phases of your plan to return to the office. You may want to use PowerForms here to allow employees to make requests on an internal company portal. 

You may need to make further alterations to policies based on unexpected events or unanticipated employee feedback. That’s normal. By keeping a pulse on the way your team reacts to changes, you can ensure that you’re always making progress and keeping employee satisfaction as high as possible.

As your team prepares to resume safe and effective work inside a physical office, your focus should be on assisting your employees, not routine manual processes. The Docusign Agreement Cloud for HR can help with every part of effective communication with employees. It’s the fastest way to distribute updates on policy, collect signatures on new paperwork and manage important documents from employees.