A female employee wears a mask as she safely reenters an office during a pandemic.

How to Safely Bring Employees Back to the Office


Give employees peace of mind by following these steps to safely welcome employees back into an office during a pandemic.

This year, millions of employees nationwide have embraced remote work. In June, a staggering 42% of the labor force was working remotely full time. But many organizations are now making plans to bring workers back to the office, and that comes with a host of new responsibilities, including following government guidelines and ensuring that your employees will be as safe as possible.

Consider these steps an employer should take to keep employees safe as they return to the workplace.

Get Familiar with Safety Protocols

The first step in all of this will be to wade into all the safety regulations that have been produced since the pandemic started. There’s a lot to know, including guidance on testing, sanitation practices, distancing within the office, and what to do if an employee contracts COVID-19 or comes into contact with someone who has.

This will be crucial not only so you can be a safe workplace, but also because employees will have questions, and you should be able to answer them.

Address Your Physical Space

There’s a good chance you’ll have to make some changes to your workspaces to make them COVID-friendly (or unfriendly, as the case may be).

Consider the following questions:

  • How much distance is between your desks?
  • Do you need plexiglass dividers?
  • Will you have a health station with supplies like hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes?
  • Will there be a greeter taking temperatures in the reception area or front office?
  • Do you need to install technology to make doors hands-free or install motion sensors in place of light switches?

The key will be to balance safety with practicality to ensure all of your employees can both work efficiently and feel safe.

Make Ongoing Sanitation Plans

It’s not enough to scrub your building from top to bottom before employees arrive—that's something you’ll have to have done regularly. Safety experts recommend disinfecting workspaces nightly, or more often if an area is heavily trafficked. If you don’t have a crew to do this, it’s time to hire one, or to contract with a service that specializes in coronavirus-style housekeeping.

Consider Your Headcount

Depending on the size of your team and the size of your building, you may have to think about bringing employees back half-time or keeping some at home temporarily. Maybe you only bring half your staff in at a time, on rotating days. Maybe you need to expand your space to accommodate all your employees.

Do you have employees who are at higher risk from coronavirus who want to continue to work remotely? What's your policy on continued teleworking? Now is the time to solidify where you stand.

Be Clear On Your Expectations

Make sure employees understand what the protocol will be in the office. Post visible signage reminding workers to maintain distance, to wash hands frequently, and to wear masks when necessary. Will you be making certain passageways one-way only, or implementing alternative ways for workers to clock in? Will you require temperature checks or a signed health form at the start of each day? It’s also important to create protocols that maintain physical distancing during emergency evacuation procedures.

Recognize Worker Anxiety

It's been a chaotic year, and employees may be facing anxiety about being back in the office, about interacting with clients, or about any number of things that may be going on at home. They may have lost a loved one to COVID-19 or struggled with illness themselves.

If you have an employee assistance program (EAP), make sure your workers know it's available. If you don't, you can point workers toward the right resources so they can get help if needed.

Make a Pandemic Plan

Make sure you have tracking and tracing procedures in place in the event that an employee tests positive for COVID-19 or exhibits symptoms. Do you have an isolation room available, should an employee fall sick during the workday? Develop self-quarantine guidelines for workers who are symptomatic or who have tested positive for the virus.

This is new territory for almost everyone, and flexibility and empathy are important. The more you can communicate with your employees and help them stay safe, the better prepared you'll be to maintain company morale and productivity.

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