As COVID-19 restrictions loosen, companies are looking at a combination of government guidelines, health advice, and employee preferences to build their return-to-work strategies. Just recently, Google sent out an email to employees about how the tech giant plans to handle the transition.

Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, stressed the office reopenings will follow a “gradual, phased approach.” Google’s buildings will not begin the reopening process until July 6, giving employees ample time to make plans for their on-site return. Only those who need to work on-site will be returning. Those that do not need to, but may want to, can also return—capacity permitting. Employees may come in on a limited basis not to exceed 10% building capacity. By September, Google hopes to allow more employees on-site, opening up to about 30% capacity.

However, aside from those required to be in-office, returning will be completely voluntary through the end of year. This exceptionally flexible approach to reopening—one that may not be replicable for every company or industry—allows for employees to better adapt to a work-life balance that has, most likely, been thrown into chaos since the pandemic began.

As an added bonus, Google will offer up to $1,000 in reimbursements for any necessary at-home office equipment. The tech company is well-known for their generous benefits and on-site perks; as a result, remote work disrupted many employees’ expectations about their compensation. Not only will this reimbursement increase employee happiness, but it is likely to ensure productivity remains strong.

This strategy of prioritizing caution and flexibility over the long term has been adopted by similar companies. Facebook will also be opening offices at the same time as Google, while allowing employees (that are able to) work from home for the rest of the year. Twitter is being even more cautious—letting staff work from home “indefinitely,” with no plan to open offices until at least September.

Considerations For A Successful Return-To-Work Plan

Companies like Google have offices in big urban centers, with locations around the world. More employees translate into a greater variety of preferences and needs when it comes to returning to work. Additionally, their office buildings are more likely to be in densely-populated areas, potentially those most impacted by COVID-19. These considerations likely motivated Google’s and other tech giants’ decision-makers to take a more gradual, flexible approach to reopening.

While employers will likely want to look to other industry leaders for direction when formulating reopening strategies, it’s important they consider their specific situation to make the most effective plans.

  • Location
    How an area has been affected by the pandemic will likely offer the clearest insight into how cautious a particular workplace might need to be; offices in New York City won’t be opening as quickly and aggressively, for example, as in less-populated towns elsewhere in the nation. Local government guidance will offer some direction.
  • Job Roles
    Working remotely is not possible for every business, nor does it work for every individual job within a company. For businesses with many positions that can’t delay returning to on-site tasks, health and safety protocols may take on a more prominent role. Increased sanitation, social distancing measures, and temperature checks or diagnostic testing may need to be utilized more when building capacity and in-person interactions can’t be significantly altered or limited due to job constraints.
  • Employee Productivity
    For businesses that are able to (and want to) continue working remotely, employers will want to make sure their workforce isn’t struggling with productivity or work-life balance while being at home. Making additional resources or benefits available that can support their focus, performance, and well-being will be of more value than aggressive health protocols in a mostly-vacant building.
  • Employee Demographics
    A company’s specific workforce also needs to be considered. Caretakers may be struggling with added family responsibilities, affecting their abilities to work on rigid schedules or on-site. At-risk populations may not want to (or be able to) return as quickly as younger or healthier colleagues. Jobs that require in-person interaction may be putting employee wellness at risk.

Above all, employers should be communicating clearly what is expected of their workforce, while emphasizing that changes or delays may occur along the way. Just as there is no single solution that will work for every business, many employees will feel that one aspect or another isn’t working for them. Addressing concerns will minimize confusion and discontent and lead to a successful return to work.

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