How to return to the office in a post-pandemic world

·3 min read

As the coronavirus cases continue to decline, many employees may soon be called back to the office — but the transition might not go as smoothly as some companies hope.

Last year, 42% of the U.S. workforce made the impromptu switch to working from home to ride out the coronavirus pandemic.

A FlexJobs survey reveals 65% of respondents said they want to remain full-time remote workers after the pandemic, and another 33% prefer a hybrid work arrangement.

As you figure out how to negotiate your future work arrangement, you might have to report to the office at least occasionally. Here are some good strategies for returning to the workplace in a post-pandemic world.

Colleagues in the office practicing alternative greeting to avoid handshakes during COVID-19 pandemic
Colleagues in the office practicing alternative greeting to avoid handshakes during COVID-19 pandemic

Ask about hygiene protocol

After a year of social distancing, hand washing, and surface sanitizing, the thought of getting close to people again might make you squeamish.

In the FlexJobs survey, 49% of respondents said they’re worried about COVID-19 exposure in the workplace, and 32% are concerned about a lack of health and safety measures.

Before you head back to the office, ask your manager or human resources department how they plan to keep everyone safe.

Woman wearing face mask while working in office with laptop and using hand alcohol gel or sanitizer bottle dispenser against corona virus Covid-19. Antiseptic, hygiene and health concept. Prevention of the pandemic virus outbreak
Woman wearing face mask while working in office with laptop and using hand alcohol gel or sanitizer bottle dispenser against corona virus Covid-19. Antiseptic, hygiene and health concept. Prevention of the pandemic virus outbreak

For example, they might require you to wear a face mask, keep your distance from co-workers, and regularly clean your workstation. Your organization might also encourage employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but they’ll need to follow state and federal laws if they want to actually require it. Your organization should also address how sick days will work and what to do if workers experience symptoms of COVID-19.

“The company culture needs to shift so that people take care of themselves and each other by keeping symptomatic illnesses of any kind out of the workplace,” said Kathy Robinson, founder of TurningPoint, a company that provides career counseling.

Check your company’s return-to-work plan

Ideally, your company has spent time organizing a return-to-work plan that addresses safety concerns, vaccine protocols, scheduling, and possibly incentives to encourage people to come back to the office.

For example, your company might plan for employees to return in phases so they can address issues and monitor safety within contained groups.

Asian office workers wearing face masks working in the new normal office and doing social distancing during coronavirus covid-19 pandemic
Asian office workers wearing face masks working in the new normal office and doing social distancing during coronavirus covid-19 pandemic

Carefully read any instructions from your company so you know when you’re returning, what’s expected of you, and whether you’re eligible for things like free meals, commuting cost reimbursement, or free child care.

Negotiate a hybrid schedule

With a hybrid schedule, you arrange to work a certain number of days in the office and the rest at home.

This allows “both employers and employees to experience the best of remote work benefits alongside the best of in-person interaction,” said Brie Reynolds, career development manager and coach at FlexJobs and Remote.co.

If you want to negotiate a fully remote or hybrid arrangement with your manager, you’ll need to first define a schedule, figure out how you’ll manage communications with your team, and explain how the arrangement will benefit the company.

In terms of logistics, TurningPoint’s Robinson suggested borrowing lessons from classroom flipping, where only collaborative tasks are done in person.

Businessman and businesswoman discussing work on video call with team members through glass partition at office
Businessman and businesswoman discussing work on video call with team members through glass partition at office

“Tasks such as creating presentations, building budgets, and responding to emails can be done at home,” she said, “while team meetings, brainstorming sessions, and giving presentations can happen in person.”

To make hybrid work possible, Robinson added, “communication and consistency are key, so that others know what to expect.”

So if your boss OKs your proposal and you start working from home part time, let your team know when and where to expect you — and stick to that schedule.

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