7 Steps to Prepare for a Safe Return to the Office

Focus on people – simplify paperwork

Women in office - Docusign

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 necessary changes.

As we prepare to return to physical office locations, there’s a lot of planning. While there has been time to develop solid plans, there are also many important factors to account for—new floor plans, ongoing safety efforts, security concerns, and anticipating future disruptions. The working world 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 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 initial plans are, the changing challenges of office safety will be a critical role for HR teams.

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 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 like: 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 make plans for your employees, find out what it is they want. Once you know, determine what’s realistic and make plans to set people up for success. It’s important to communicate openly at each step in the reopening process; a good way to establish that pattern is by letting the employees speak first. 

2. Plan for multiple return scenarios

Expect that the workplace will need to undergo some equipment or space configuration changes to ensure employee safety. 

In the event that employees don’t all resume full-time work at once (the likely scenario), you’ll need to determine which teams return to the office and when. 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 departments 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 will need to be adapted to match the current circumstances (remote onboarding, home office expense management, IT assistance, etc.). For others, you may have to create entirely new rules. Regardless of whether or not policies have been finalized, it’s critical that employees always have easy access to the most current information. Here are a few tools to help you keep every employee up to date:

  • Bulk send: The best way to send a personalized "one-to-many" communication. Send documents, such as policy agreements, to the entire company or specific groups 
  • Responsive signing: When employees need to review and sign policies, they can do that on virtually any device from anywhere
  • SMS delivery: When information is time-sensitive or an employee 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 new policies in place and communicated to staff, 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 PowerForms is useful. It allows employees to generate on-demand, self-service documents for signature without involving 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. 

A robust tool like eSignature allows employees to sign a document and attach photos as proof of vaccination. With a simple, guided signing experience, the employee is stepped through the process where information, signatures and documentation are all kept in a single envelope for easy access later. HR teams can even set up conditional routing to automatically trigger important workflows as soon as these documents are signed and submitted.   

A crucial part of managing vaccine information is secure storage. Signed vaccine documents (and any photos that are part of that envelope) need to be stored centrally for easy access whenever that information is needed. What's more, critical employee data can be shared securely 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 determined the strategy for a safe return to the office, it’s time to develop guidelines for other common employee activities. The sudden move to remote work in 2020 temporarily paused employee travel and modified other standard expenses like meals, supplies, events, etc. These programs all need to be revisited 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 used for any frequent employee interaction.

7. Continue monitoring the employee experience

Solid return-to-office plans will evolve the same way they started: by checking in on employee sentiment. Bringing employees back to work to a physical office is a big change and it’s important to make sure everyone has a chance to voice their opinion throughout the process. Be sure to ask questions about employee safety and productivity as you progress through different phases of return. You can use PowerForms here to enable employee requests on your company portal. 

You may need to alter policies based on unexpected events or unanticipated employee feedback. That’s normal. Keep tabs on staff reactions so you can adjust and keep employee satisfaction as high as possible.

As your team prepares to resume safe and effective work together in the office, focus on assisting your employees, not on paperwork.