Many firms are returning to in-person work, but it’s not so simple as flipping a switch and going back to normal. You have to be mindful of your customers and clients’ needs and desires to create the safest and most agreeable experience for all.
When the CDC released their guidelines for fully vaccinated people at the end of May, it felt like the end of a long chapter of changing regulations and imperfect information about whether offices should be open. Now, it seems, we are in a place where we will only be moving forward, rather than having to experience another shutdown. But an easing of restrictions isn’t the same thing as going back to normal as we knew it before the pandemic. To make a return to in-office work successful, you can’t throw caution to the wind and attempt to reinstate all of your old policies. Instead, you have to listen to your team members and clients before devising a strategy that works for everyone.
In a perfect world, your entire team would be vaccinated and eager to get back to working in the office every day. For the vast majority of firms out there, that simply won’t be the case. Do your people actually want to be in the office for 40 hours? Would they prefer to wear masks regardless of what the guidelines say? Will some of them decide not to get the vaccine? These are the kinds of questions you need to consider before welcoming everyone back. I’ve discussed reopening before, but now the question isn’t whether to reopen; it’s when and how best to do it. While the answers to that will be different for every firm, there are some best practices you can adopt in order to find the individual solution that suits your business and people.
Gauge employee comfort and interest
Mandating a date for a full return to work may seem like the surest way to rip off the band-aid of pandemic-era regulations, but it’s neither advisable nor what most workers want to have happen. In a situation like the one we’re in, you’re much better served to dip a toe or two in the water before diving in. Even better is to ask your team members is they are prepared to return, to what degree they want to, and what rules they want to have in place before doing so.
The easiest and best way to understand where they’re at is, of course, to ask them. Creating a survey (you can find a sample here) will allow you to assess where your team is at in terms of enthusiasm to and identify what people are worried about. Some may want mask rules within the office, while others will not want to be in the office if they have to wear a mask. You probably won’t be able to make a policy that is everyone’s ideal set of rules, but you’re much better off knowing where people stand before trying to devise a plan.
Rely on hybridity
If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past year-and-a-half, it’s that we can get our work done remotely. It may not be optimal, it may involve a Zoom faux pas or two, but if circumstances dictate, we don’t need to be in the office to fulfill our roles. With that knowledge, you can lean on the fact that not everyone has to be in the office all the time. You can leverage hybrid work practices in order to both test policies and allow people to work in the way that’s best for them.
It’s not a bad idea to designate a pilot group to return to the office first, followed by allowing everyone back at once. Relearning the rhythms of an in-office day will be difficult and come with some awkwardness. You’ll have to iron out a few kinks before you are certain of best practices. Similarly, you may find that one or team members will prefer to remain remote for the foreseeable future. How you’ll approach these situations is up to you, but remember that you can use in-office and remote work together. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
The same goes for clients. Many will be happy to never set foot in your office again, whether for safety or simple convenience, and that’s totally fine. Zoom meetings are here to stay, and you should utilize them even if your entire team is in the office.
Change course if you have to
Nobody is saying you have to get reopening 100-percent right at the first time of asking. If you adopt a certain policy and find its making employees uneasy, you can and should alter your plans. We’re all doing this for the first time, so it’s impossible to foresee every potential sticking point. Over the past year, you’ve probably changed strategies more times than you can count. Don’t be afraid to keep doing so until you find one that fits.
Amy Vetter is an accomplished entrepreneur, business executive, national speaker, CPA and yoga practitioner. She’s a third-generation woman entrepreneur who has launched and sold multiple businesses including owning and operating her own yoga studios, accounting practice and other business ventures.
See inside July 2021
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