As the business world grapples with how to both adapt to the new normal of remote work, and simultaneously plan for how to get employees back to the office or work site once the worst of the pandemic subsides, human talent leaders understandably have a variety of questions about best practices for reopening the workplace. While the needs of different companies vary greatly depending on the nature of their business, these are the most common reopening questions we are hearing from human capital leaders around the world:

1. Do you see the option of working from home, either part or full-time, as being a necessary part of company culture that will be required in order to attract and retain top talent going forward?

Some senior business leaders were skeptical about large-scale working from home (WFH) before the pandemic started, but we have seen high levels of dedication and motivation from employees during the crisis. We anticipate increased demand for more WFH opportunities from employees in the future, and talent leaders will be expected to incorporate the practice into their business model. Because remote working can sometimes cause employees to become too task oriented, it is crucial that talent leaders continue to invest in the development of employees”; soft and collaborative skills as virtual working becomes more prevalent.

2. WFH has allowed workers to spend more time with families and less time commuting. How can organizations help employees cope with the transition back to work once workers must return to the office after months of being at home?

Businesses should consider implementing a hybrid work model, which includes some in-office work and some remote work. Considering that virtual work has not eroded productivity as initially feared, there exists an opportunity for companies to allow employees to continue to enjoy the benefits of virtual work in a way that is advantageous for both organizations and the employees who want to continue to work from home.

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3. How can we earn the trust and confidence of our employees to help them feel safe to return to the office?

When it comes to re-opening our offices, managers and executives have to lead by example. Senior leadership should be the first ones going back to the office to instill confidence in their associates that it is safe to return. Communication is also key to helping employees feel safe, and companies should also consider developing materials like short explanatory videos that illustrate the rules and procedures that have been put in place to keep the workplace clean and safe.

4. How can we ensure employee morale is kept high during the pandemic when there are so many uncertainties surrounding every aspect of life, both work and personal?

Organizations could consider issuing regular online surveys to their workforce to see how employees are feeling about their work satisfaction and work-life balance. These surveys can help talent leaders understand what areas the business can improve on or where it can offer more support. Frequent communication with staff and regular meetings where employees can ask questions of leadership can also help employees feel cared for and that their needs are being addressed. Organizational well-being specialists can also be brought in to run webinars for employees about the best methods for coping with anxiety and stress during these uncertain times.

5. How is hiring and onboarding likely to be affected by the pandemic?

Many organizations are still continuing to hire, even in the midst of a pandemic, but companies are having to recruit and engage talent in new ways using a variety of technologies. Video interviews and virtual job fairs have gone from occasional occurrences to necessary tools for maintaining a talent pipeline. It is critical that talent leaders deploy a tech-and-touch strategy when interviewing and onboarding that combines technology with a personal connection. The onboarding process in particular requires more attention, communication and leadership than ever before.

6. Do you think that more companies will permanently switch to remote work in order to save money on office space?

While remote working does save organizations money on office space and travel expenses, we don”;t think that office work will cease to exist. Working together in person allows employees to collaborate and solve issues more quickly, and we believe there will always be a need to maintain a communal office that incorporates a hybrid model of in-person and remote work that achieves the maximum benefits of both options.

7. How do you think businesses should approach testing their employees for coronavirus as they return to the workplace?

First and foremost, businesses should monitor and follow the Covid-19 testing guidelines and recommendations issued by local health officials. While these guidelines are still being thoroughly developed, some options will likely include checking employees”; temperatures when they return to the office and testing them for Covid-19. Those who test positive should be advised to quarantine at home and work remotely before coming back to the office. Public and private companies are urged to work together to increase testing capabilities that will help employees feel safe and confident returning to the workplace.

8. What will the future physically distanced workplace look like?

It is hard to predict with certainty what the future of work will look like, but there will be more flexibility in terms of where employees conduct business since remote work has proven so successful during lockdowns around the world. In terms of the physical space, offices must be reconfigured so that social distancing requirements can continue to be met. This could include repositioning workspaces to spread people further apart, or solutions as simple as putting X marks on desks that shouldn”;t be occupied to create space between coworkers. The flow of traffic on staircases and proper protocol on elevators must also be prominently displayed with signage, so employees know exactly how they can work and move about most safely.

No one business or individual has all of the answers, but drawing on our experience working with companies in virtually every business sector can help us prepare for a variety of possible scenarios. The key to coming out of this pandemic stronger than before is to be adaptable and willing to adjust to the new normal, while keeping your people at the heart of what you do.

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