In the months (years? decades?) since March 2020, we’ve all heard terms like “new normal” and “back to normal” more times than any of us can count.
I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to imagine what “normal” even means anymore.
What’s normal in a moment in history defined by change? Jobs and businesses have changed. Family and living situations have changed. Bodies have changed. Mindsets and perspectives have changed.
Let’s all agree—right here, right now—to accept and embrace those changes.
You are not the same person you were before COVID. None of us are, and that’s okay! The entire human race changed right alongside you. Feels better to know you’re not alone, doesn’t it?
But what does all this talk about change mean for you and your business? Well, that depends.
Accepting personal change is one thing. Business changes, on the other hand…
Your business is unique, and your response to the pandemic has likely depended on numerous factors, including what type of business you run, how many team members you have, and how you meet your customers’ or clients’ needs.
How you move forward from here will depend on plenty of different factors, as well. For businesses that have operated remotely, one of the toughest and most urgent questions is whether and how to return to the office:
- Should you bring your team members back to a shared, physical location?
- Should you stagger a return to the office?
- Or should some—or all—people continue working from home sometimes, or all of time?
- How do you ensure everyone is working in the environment in which they feel more productive?
- What’s the safest choice for everyone?
- Should you require all team members be vaccinated before they show up?
- Masks or no masks?
Clearly, there’s a lot to think about here. And let’s not forget the emotional impact of any decision on your employees and customers or clients, many of whom are still reeling from the events of the last year. So, as businesses, how should we navigate the return to normal?
Step one: Forget that we are returning to anything normal.
Remember when I declared we should all embrace change? We are all starting something new here. Working in-person won’t look or feel like it used to. Normal doesn’t exist anymore—at least what we think of as pre-COVID “normal.” Don’t think of this moment as an end, but a new beginning. You and your team will find ways to live your best lives and do your best work post-COVID.
Ready to enter the brave new world? Before you slip out of your pajamas and into your pantsuit, here are 9 things to do for your business, your team, and yourself. (You can select any of the items on the list below to read more about that topic, or continue scrolling to read the full article.)
9 things to do before returning to the office
- Review your safety procedures and employee policies.
- Review your business continuity plan.
- Determine what kind of “reopening” makes the most sense for your business.
- Communicate your reopening plans to your employees.
- Buy a new outfit or two.
- Try a “rehearsal” week.
- Spend quality time with loved ones.
- Make space for your and your employees’ mental health.
- Book some time off.
1. Review your safety procedures and employee policies.
No matter what type of business you run, you’ve probably made many changes to your day-to-day operations because of the pandemic. From which direction to walk when navigating the physical office space to what to do if one of your employees gets exposed to COVID, chances are you need to revisit your safety procedures and employee policies.
Updating your policies and procedures before calling everyone back to the office will help you get your team on the same page with these changes.
Next to COVID safety precautions for your employees—which will be new for everyone returning to the office—be sure to consider the safety of your customers or clients, too. Will your customers be allowed in the office space? How will meetings with potential new clients look now that you are returning to the in-person work environment?
Business as usual could be unusual for the long term. Now is the time to update your policies and procedures to account for these changes and other things you may have set aside while you survived the initial phases of a pandemic.
2. Review your business continuity plan.
…A business continuity what?
A business continuity plan is something every business should have on hand. If 2020 and the first quarter of 2021 have shown us anything, it’s that Murphy’s Law is real. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and probably all at the same time. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen supply chains freeze, the whole world shut down, and infrastructures fail, all while people suffered from unprecedented isolation and economic crisis.
A business continuity plan spells out clearly and in great detail how your business will continue to run when the worst happens. If you haven’t already, now is the time to put all of the real-world expertise you’ve gained in the last 14 months into writing a comprehensive continuity plan for your business.
3. Determine what kind of “reopening” makes the most sense for your business.
You know your business, your team members, and yourself best. Now is the time to sit down and think about your business and the smartest plan for returning to working in person.
Some options to consider for reopening the office include:
- Ask your team members for “volunteers” to return to the office. You probably have a few that prefer working from the office. Are any of your employees high risk? Should they be allowed to continue to work from home long-term?
- Choose a percentage (e.g. 10%, 15%, or even 25%) of your workforce to call back to the office. Think about what departments would most benefit from being in a collaborative in-person space and bring those team members back to the office first.
- Call everyone back to work on a set date. This option may prove to be the most complicated. To call everyone back on the same day, you should first make sure you clearly communicate your policies and procedures to your team members. For the time being, it’s also a good idea to have a plan in place should COVID cases spike in your area again or team members need to quarantine due to exposure to the virus. It’s much easier to send 10 or 15% of your team back to remote working than your entire staff all at once. Gradual is not necessarily a bad thing in this scenario.
Another thing to consider is how the pandemic has changed your business in general. What will your new office hours be? Do your remote team members need to be available at the same time as your in-person team members? Will work hours be flexible for everyone? Now’s the time to make decisions—before coming back to the office.
4. Communicate your reopening plans to your employees.
Once you’ve considered your options for reopening the office, decided on how your business should reopen, reviewed your policies and procedures, and updated your continuity plan, the next step is to tell your team.
Make sure to give your team all of this information in multiple formats. It’s important to get your team to “buy in” to the changes so that everything runs smoothly.
In addition to communicating your plans for reopening to your team, you may want to have a plan in place for how to communicate changes to your new policies and procedures to your team—because, again, if we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that the only constant is change.
5. Buy a new outfit or two.
Now’s a great opportunity to update your wardrobe. Buy something that makes you feel like your most confident self. You’ll exude that attitude when you wear the outfit. It will also help you mark a new era in your life and—if you’ve been wearing nothing but extra-comfy clothes this whole time—re-enter a more, um, professional headspace.
6. Try a “rehearsal” week.
Okay, practicing might sound silly, but stick with me here.
You’ve been rolling out of bed and logging into your work computer in your pajamas for 14 months. Waking up on day one and going into the office with no practice or preparation will be almost impossible.
Giving yourself a “rehearsal” week will not only help you get into the right mindset to return to the office, but it will help you figure out how long your new morning routine will take. You’re not the same person you were one year ago. Take the time to figure out who the new you is.
Practice by waking up early and getting ready in your professional work clothes. See how it feels and how long it takes you to get ready for work. Plan things like where you plan on stopping for your morning coffee on your way to work. Your first day back at the office will go more smoothly if you’ve given yourself some time to practice being an in-person working adult again.
As part of this exercise, practice setting boundaries.
As a remote business owner for the last year, the lines separating your work life and your personal life might have blurred a bit (read: a lot). This warm-up week can give you a real sense of separation from your work and home life again. Take this opportunity to gain a sense of that balance and set some clear boundaries for yourself after losing sight of your boundaries because of the pandemic.
7. Spend quality time with loved ones.
Our kids, partners, and pets have enjoyed having us home all the time because of the pandemic. This is one example of how not all of the changes the pandemic caused have been negative. I mean, who doesn’t want their dog sitting in their lap all day?
Now that you’re returning to the office, your family and pets will miss you. Some families have flourished under the stay-at-home orders, and saying goodbye to that family time will be difficult.
Now is the time to create some family experiences and spend some quality time together as you all leave the house and start new adventures at work and in school.
8. Make space for your and your employees’ mental health
Returning to a shared work environment won’t feel the same for you and your team members. Expect reactions all across the spectrum. You and your team might experience some anxiety and stress over returning to the office.
More than a year is a long time to be out of the traditional work environment. Coming back to the workplace will lead to feelings of excitement and fear for your team members. Making space for your team to acclimate to the newness of working in a shared space again can go a long way for their morale. Don’t expect everyone to be ready to jump right in—yourself included. Allow yourself and your team to take the time to adjust to the new routines of the coworking space.
Practice self-care. I know it might sound cheesy, but sometimes we have to get a little cheesy to get things accomplished. Taking care of yourself is taking care of your business. After all, you are your business. Allow yourself time to indulge in the little things that bring you joy. Your business will be better for it.
9. Book some time off.
The last year might have felt like a year off because you’ve been working from home. But you’ve probably been working a lot more than you realize. While working from home, the boundaries of home life and work-life quickly disappear. You’ve probably been working earlier and staying at work later than you think you have.
With the pandemic slowly improving, vaccine availability opening up, and flight prices still down, now might be the perfect time to book yourself a trip or short getaway. Give yourself something to look forward to so that when you start to feel anxious about going back to the office, you have something to focus on other than work and your business.
Let Ruby take something off of your do-to list.
Whew, we’ve given you a lot to consider here! Planning your return to the in-person work environment is a fair amount of work unto itself. There are numerous plans to implement—on top of the day-to-day operations of your business.
Let us take customer communication off your list.
At Ruby, we use every opportunity to create meaningful connections between you and the people you serve. We can help your business by answering calls, engaging with your website visitors, and connecting with your customers or clients—online and over the phone.
You don’t have to face the changing business world alone. Ruby’s here to help. Learn more.