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As we learned from the Future of Workplace communications blog, this global pandemic has had a significant impact on well-being strategies, and we have seen many organizations try to find ways to introduce and effectively communicate new employee well-being initiatives to their workforce. Until now, these have largely revolved around remote work. But, as leaders strategize what the “next” normal looks like for their workforces, personal well-being has now become closely intertwined with workplace safety efforts.
In this article, we will discuss safety protocols that workplace leaders should consider in order to protect on-site employees—even if their visits are sporadic.
Introducing the hybrid model
One common strategy for return-to-office planning is to roll out a hybrid model, offering greater flexibility for the workforce. Some hybrid models may allow employees to choose how many days each week they come into the office, and on how many days they continue to work remotely; other models may involve employers determining which days are designated for “remote work” and which are the “in-office” days. A June 2020 survey of corporate leaders found that 82% plan to more permanently allow remote working some of the time (Gartner). However “hybrid” looks for each organization, two main factors must be examined: what employee safety and well-being look like inside the physical office building, and employee behavior between office visits.
Safety in a hybrid workplace—inside the office
The remote-work component to this hybrid model promotes well-being simply by offering the flexibility of long-term remote work solutions, allowing employees to balance their personal priorities along with professional ones. But in-office work brings the added challenges of considering the safety and well-being of people being brought together in relatively close indoor quarters before a substantial percentage of the population has been vaccinated.
The following include some self-evident obvious points that organizations must consider:
And, the less self-evident considerations:
All of these safety precautions, however, only cover the activity that happens within the walls of the office—organizations have much less control over employee behavior during their time between office visits.
Safety in a hybrid workplace—outside the office
Leadership may need to require additional precautions to assess employees’ health upon entry to the building, to ensure they have remained uninfected between visits. Some buildings or organizations may require that employees complete a brief questionnaire about their personal health prior to arriving at the office, and/or conduct temperature scans upon entry to the building (for offices in states in which this practice has not been deemed unlawful).
Below are some top-of-mind considerations for organizations regarding employee behavior between office visits.
While hybrid models can offer both flexibility and stability in this next phase of work-life for many employees, sharing often-changing—and sometimes critical or serious—information can be an arduous task for leadership. For this reason, organizations must carefully contemplate how they plan to express this information at each stage.
Communication is key
How the safety measures and precautions are communicated to employees can determine their success with regard to compliance and acceptance, so communication with the workforce regarding any updates to workplace safety should be strategically planned and intentionally executed. To best communicate what’s next to employees, consider following the steps below.
1. Set the strategy: Above all processes and requirements is the need to convey to employees that they are the top priority and primary reason for any safety measures and precautions that are in place or are soon to be implemented. A clear communications strategy sets the foundation for meaningful connections between the employer and employees so that this key message is woven throughout all related communications.
2. Open up two-way communication: Gaining insight into workforce sentiment and concerns is important to set policies and procedures that will protect employees where they feel they need it. Establish channels for employees to share their preferences toward returning to the office, what would be needed for their well-being, and considerations for the employer for rollout and ongoing success.
3. Consider stakeholder differences: Safety measures differ by employee groups and, consequently, so will their communication needs. Considering what exposure employees are faced with and what external circumstances affect their work due to the virus should be integral components in communications messaging and delivery.
4. Provide frequent communications: The perception of how an employer is handling the safety of its employees can be influenced greatly by how often employees are hearing about it. Even if the overall safety strategy has yet to be determined, regular updates to employees—to inform them of the ongoing efforts, or acknowledgment that more information is needed before more definitive news can be shared—can yield high confidence and support.
With efficient communication and employee support, implementing a successful hybrid work strategy can have positive effects on how each of us works, long after the initial phases.
Benefits beyond the COVID-19 response
Just as COVID-19 sped up the adoption of digital technologies by several years, this may be a pivotal opportunity for our response to the virus to speed up the transformation of safe and effective workplaces.
John Macomber has been studying workplace environments since well before the pandemic. According to Macomber’s work, ventilation and filtration in the workplace have long been concerns for productivity and long-term health—in addition to the most recent concerns for transmission of the COVID-19 virus. Recent studies from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, SUNY Upstate Medical University, and Syracuse University have found that improved indoor environmental quality doubled occupants’ cognitive function test scores.
Safety priorities should no longer be about meeting “minimum requirements” for a building or for CDC guidelines—they should be about the comfort, experience, well-being, and productivity of your workforce.
Carrier, “The Impact of Green Buildings on Cognitive Function,” accessed April 15, 2021.
McKinsey & Company, “How COVID-19 has pushed companies over the technology tipping point—and transformed business forever,” October 5, 2020.
Sara Castellanos, “CIOs Question a Full Return to the Office,” The Wall Street Journal, December 29, 2020.
Melissa leads the Strategic Communications practice within Human Capital and is responsible for overseeing and executing engagement tasks. She has more than 15 years of communications experience and is an innovative communications expert credited with building and delivering business plans and marketing strategies in alignment with client and corporate goals. Melissa is focused on building the employer/employee relationship through strategic communications building understanding and adoption of the changes they are encountering. Melissa has the ability to create and execute marketing and communications campaigns and solutions for Fortune 100 companies—conceptualizing and guiding the design, development, implementation, and management of key programs. Her expertise is in leadership and employee communications HR management domains, total rewards, and benefits.