How To Bring Employees Back To The Office Without Damaging Company Culture

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

As businesses and states begin to reopen, employers are faced with the task of figuring out how to successfully transition employees back into the office. While many employees are eager to get back to work for the sake of their mental health, some are perfectly happy remaining at home. This could be due to getting a taste of the remote work life or being fearful of the risk of infection being back in the office again. Regardless, this is a delicate time for everyone involved.

Work environments won’t look the same as they once have and that’s okay. Companies shouldn’t be striving to go back to the way things were because of the way things were is no longer. Forcing employees into the office without an adjustment period, safety measures or concrete plan will not only be overwhelming but can harm the culture and morale. Employees need time to reacclimate to working in the office again.

Here are four ways employers can bring employees back to the office without damaging the company culture.

Have A Detailed Return-To-Work Plan

The worst thing employers can do is bring their employees back into the workplace without a plan. Whether they admit it or not, most employees have concerns about returning to the office. Employers can address these concerns by creating a detailed return-to-work plan that lays out clear guidelines and makes employees’ safety a priority.

Bringing employees back to work is a multi-step process to help employees adjust to being back in the office. Here are some things senior leadership should create protocols around when creating a return-to-work plan:

  • Employees clocking in and out

Instead of forcing everyone back into the office at once, Monica Eaton-Cardone, co-founder and COO of Chargebacks911, recommended a partial return where individual departments come in one or two at a time. She said, “another option would be having employees or departments alternating days between working from home and being in the office.”

Despite what many employers previously believed, remote work has been proven it can be done. Therefore, employers shouldn’t feel rushed to bring their employees back into the office. It’s best to err on the side of caution and phase employees back in until the CDC informs businesses otherwise.

Communicate Openly And Often

It’s vital for senior leadership and management to communicate new workplace protocols frequently, both verbally and written, through various mediums. Brett Holubeck, attorney at Alaniz Law & Associates, and blogger at Texas Labor Law Blog, suggested having virtual town hall events, checking in with employees to gauge how they’re feeling, reminding employees of open-door policies, involving leadership and management in safety discussions and implementing suggestion boxes, to name a few.

Rather than spring it on employees at the last minute, senior leadership should communicate in advance when they intend to bring employees back into work. This allows employees to plan for childcare alternatives. It’s important to remain understanding around challenges employees face as a result of the quarantine. For this reason, leadership should keep an open mind and be flexible to individual circumstances.

Manage With Trust, Lead With Empathy

Trust and empathy should be the foundation at which employers shift their employees back into the workplace. While many businesses are re-opening, schools and daycare centers are not. Consequently, employees will have the responsibility of caring for their child that will keep them from being able to return to the office. Everyone’s situation is different and this needs to be taken into consideration.

Troy McAlpin, CEO of xMatters, asserted “this is an opportunity to embrace the blending of our already blended work-life balance and provide the worker with more control over their time-where trust is given and trust is returned.” If an employee needs to work at home longer or a few days a week, employers should be understanding and willing to accommodate those needs.

Prior to COVID-19, companies struggled with how remote work would fit into their workplace. It was a long-term future plan in which few employers were prepared. That has since changed and now it’s time for human resources to revisit their work from home policies to make them applicable for today and moving forward. Research conducted by Gartner stated by 2030, “the demand for remote work will increase by 30% due to Generation Z fully entering the workforce.” The future of work is now and employers can either adapt or be at a competitive disadvantage for attracting and retaining talent.

Create Healthy Habits And New Safety Measures

VitalSmarts recently released a study that found only 14% of employees say their organization is COVID safe with appropriate precautions for them to return to work. However, even if appropriate precautions are in place, 2 out of 5 employees admitted to feeling nervous about the risk of infection when interacting with their coworkers.

Joseph Grenny, social scientist and New York Times best selling author, shared the importance of managers and leaders doing daily rounds to inspect and “observe the degree to which proper behavior is being practiced for the first 30 days.” Grenny added, “after the first month, rounding can happen every other day.”

Likewise, meetings should be limited to how many people are allowed in a room. Masks, Clorox wipes and hand sanitizers should be provided along with frequent reminders of new safety protocols. Some healthy habits management and senior leadership should demonstrate are:

  • Wiping down surfaces in shared spaces

To emphasize the commitment to employees' health, anyone who is sick or not feeling well should be sent home or have the option to work remotely. Employers have a moral responsibility to keep their employees safe, therefore, management and senior leadership need to continuously promote healthy habits, communicate safety measures and make sure everyone is abiding by them.

Originally published by Heidi Lynne Kurter at



Forbes senior journalist, workplace culture consultant, leadership coach, domestic violence advocate, workplace bully activist and Corgi mom!

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Heidi Lynne Kurter

Forbes senior journalist, workplace culture consultant, leadership coach, domestic violence advocate, workplace bully activist and Corgi mom!