Remote work: Prepare for Office Re-entry

some chairs in an empty office

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”
-Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) in The Godfather III (1990)

Most of us have been working remotely for what seems like eons. It’s actually closer to ten weeks, but who’s counting? Ten weeks is long enough to rearrange schedules, alter bedtimes, divide the household labor, decide which parts of the curriculum are worth fighting about, and figure out how to work from home. Now that some parts of the country are opening businesses, how do we go back to the office?

Create an office re-entry plan

No, you’re not an astronaut, but you need to prepare yourself and your team for the return to the office. Without a plan, the exercise will resemble a bank run during the depression or a CVS advertising a new shipment of toilet paper.

 Appoint a back-to-office team

This could be your crisis team or a totally new group. Choose calm, organized folks with patience and empathy who can help your people make the transition to “normal” smoothly.

Decide who will head back to the office

Is your entire crew going back or are some continuing to work from home? Are they planning to work from home temporarily because their kids are home, or would they prefer staying there? Will your company allow them to remain at home? There are many options.

  • Returning to the office 100% of the time
  • Working remotely 100% of the time
  • Creating a hybrid schedule with part remote/part in-office time
  • Staggering schedules to meet company and family needs
  • Being more flexible generally

Understand we’re not back to normal

Schools and daycares are still closed so parents are juggling homeschooling, work, parenting, and all the other chores that come with kids and homes. Those without children may be caring for elderly relatives and pets. Even when schools open, it’ll be tough for some kids to adapt to seeing less of their parents and for parents to seeing less of their kids. Try to be flexible and understanding.

Expect the unexpected

Some companies may require PPE (personal protective equipment) in the office. Wearing masks and gloves at your desk may become the norm — at least for a while. People may be emotional. They might be afraid of getting sick or miss being home. They may dread or even resent the idea of changing their routines all over again. They’ll be disoriented and feel awkward. Some employees, especially introverts and folks who spent the quarantine living alone, may react to the office like a vampire reacts to sunlight.

Rebuild momentum

Let’s face it, the engine is cold. It’ll take more than a quick pep talk and a cup of coffee to rev it up again. We’ll face a change in office dynamics. Some folks may have dealt well with the sudden shift to remote work. Some, even office rock stars, may have taken a while to get up to speed. Your key quarantine personnel may have great battle-ready skills, but without a crisis, they may get bored or even resent coming back into a situation where those traits are less valuable. How do you manage them?

  • Lead with compassion
  • Reengage with your team
  • Ease into the work routine
  • Allow your team to get acclimated

Don’t expect people to slide right back into business as usual. Let them get their feet wet before diving into the deep end.

Create a continuity plan for round 2

  • Designate a crisis team
  • Set up a chain of command in case you or another leader gets sick
  • Devise a support system so team members feel supported
  • Establish a PR plan in case someone on your team gets sick
  • Decide how to hire and onboard new employees in this climate
  • Sign papers and create e-signatures for the team

This may also be the ideal time to think about how much you spend on office rental, insurance, utilities, WiFi, and equipment. If some of your team plan to work from home even after the crisis ends, do you need such a big space? Do you need a space at all? Would it be cheaper and more efficient to equip your team and ask them all to work remotely?  

The quarantine has disrupted all our lives and forced us to rethink everything — how we live, educate, care for people, do business, and work. If we lead with compassion, flexibility, and sense, we’ll help ourselves and our teams not only survive, but thrive.