Building a return-to-work plan is a big task which is largely falling on the shoulders of Human Resources administrators. Many companies are aiming for autumn openings of offices and workspaces which have been closed for months. As you work to create a safe and effective environment for your teams, what should you focus on? Here are some tips to help you plan your reopening and find ways to support your employees in their return to work.

Work with your benefit providers to strategize

Health insurer Optum surveyed large employers across the United States about their return-to-work plans, and found a majority of companies are working with their health insurer to develop a strategy. Health insurers have data on their side; they can use analytics to monitor daily health-screenings put into place by worksites. Spotting trends in the data can help prevent any troubling health situations amongst your employees, or pinpoint potential risks.

Health insurers are also able to help with screening and general support for employees who may be experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, or concerned about a potential exposure. Optum’s survey found many companies are implementing a nurse hotline, utilizing an employee symptom-checker tool, and developing on-site symptom check protocols.

There are many medically-related procedures and protocols to be implemented around the workplace, and partnering with your benefits provider can help you navigate this new space with a minimum of stress.

Communication with employees

Throughout the reopening planning process, be sure you are communicating with your employees. It’s important to know how they’re feeling, what they expect, and areas of particular concern regarding their specific workplace.

Surveys can gauge the general mental preparedness of your employees not just for a return to the workplace, but also for the levels of precaution they expect from the company. You may find employees are expecting a more robust response than what you were initially planning, or have questions about situations or workspaces you hadn’t even considered yet.

Remember that your employees are the ones who deal with workplace situations every day, and their first-person perspective on potential issues can be incredibly valuable. Will some employees need Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that others will not? Will some areas benefit from restricted access? Your employees on the ground will likely have some first-hand experiences to give you insight into problem areas.

Support for caregivers

You have parents on your teams. You also have caregivers of parents, spouses, and other people who may be dependent for a variety of reasons. Are there care options available for them when your workplace opens up?

Many daycares are not yet open, school openings are in flux, babysitters are individual people with personal choices of their own to make, and senior care homes are often locked down to permanent residents, with no visitation permitted. The caregivers on your employee roster may find it impossible to leave home for the workplace without some measure of support.

Support for caregivers during your reopening calls for flexibility and creative responses. Does your benefit plan offer childcare, backup care, or elderly care services? Are these benefits available during your reopening schedule? Flexible hours and a continued work-from-home policy can help keep your employees productive while outside support is still spotty.

Providing mindful support for anxiety and stress

In the lead-up to opening, as well as once your employees are back in the office, stress is going to be a serious topic. People are generally anxious about going back to work during the pandemic, and the changes in the workplace are going to add another layer of worry. There’s even a significant mental roadblock for those who aren’t terribly concerned about their health: the human brain has an autopilot mode, guiding routines in familiar spaces, and it will be misfiring regularly as it takes in the new normal of your workplace.

Mindfulness and stress-reducing apps can help your employees recover from these mental shocks to the system. Your general management culture plays a big role, as well. In this post we have tips for helping employees adjust to the new, socially-distant office. Use these tips to guide your entire leadership team forward with compassion and empathy.