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  1. Business
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How to Plan Employee Return to Work Guidelines

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When it comes to the workplace, flexibility is important. There are times when employees might need to stay at home for an extended period of time. As such, allowing them to either work from home or take the time off that’s needed is necessary.

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How should companies plan for employees to return to work after an extended absence? (Image source: Envato Elements)

But what happens when they’re ready to re-enter the workplace? In that case, you need a solid return to work policy that'll help re-integrate employees into the workplace. That’s what this article is all about. 

We’ll outline reasons why employees might stay at home and explain how to set up your return to work policy.

Reasons Why Employees Might Stay At Home

There are several reasons why employees might stay at home for an extended period of time. In some cases, those reasons are of personal nature. Other times, those reasons impact not only the employee, but also the entire workplace. Here are a few common reasons why employees might stay at home:

1. Health Reasons

The most obvious reason for staying at home is if your employees are dealing with health problems. One report shows that 57% of employees sometimes go to work while sick, citing having too much work as the main reason behind their decision.

Health reasons can include several things such as:

  • dealing with a temporary disability like a broken leg
  • high risk pregnancy
  • long term illness for which they need treatment or hospital stay
  • and many others 

If your employee is dealing with a serious and contagious illness, staying at home is not only helping them recover and get well. It’s also keeping the rest of your employees safe. 

2. Caring for a Family Member

In some cases, your employee needs to stay at home because they’re caring for a family member. According to an AARP report, about 53 million Americans serve as a caregiver for a loved one. Moreover, about 6 in 10 of them are also working.

Family caregiver photo from Envato ElementsFamily caregiver photo from Envato ElementsFamily caregiver photo from Envato Elements
Family caregiver photo (Image source: Envato Elements)

Caregiving might be a temporary situation. But it can also be a more serious situation where they need to stay at home for an indefinite period of time. They may or may not transition into remote work during that time. On a similar note, they may return only to work part-time hours. 

3. Local or Workplace Events

Beyond personal reasons, there might be some local or workplace events that cause your employees to stay at home. For example, a devastating earthquake or another natural disaster in the area can cause damage to your office building. 

While your employees might continue to work remotely in this situation, they'll still need to be re-integrated into the workplace. You might have new security protocols and safety measures that they need to be trained. Plus, they need to know how to respond to a natural disaster and how to deal with the associated trauma afterwards. 

4. Global Events

Global events like the recent COVID-19 pandemic are another reason why employees might stay at home for an extended period of time.

Many companies transitioned into remote work during 2020. According to Statista, 44% of US employees worked from home 5+ days/week. As a result, some are now considering adopting a hybrid approach as businesses start to reopen. 

After such an event, your employees need to be trained on newly implemented health and safety regulations as well as become familiar with other relevant company policies. This can include vaccination strategy, exposure response plan, and more.

Set Up Your Return to Work Policy

Business office image on Envato ElementsBusiness office image on Envato ElementsBusiness office image on Envato Elements
Business office (Image source: Envato Elements)

We’ve just covered the most common reasons for staying at home for extended periods of time. Now let’s discuss how you can set up a return to work policy for your company:

1. Understand What Your Employees Might Be Dealing With

After a long period of staying at home, you need to understand what your employees might be dealing with. Depending on the reason for staying at home, they might be dealing with sadness, grief, stress or even social anxiety. 

That’s why it’s important to let them know they can count on support and resources that'll help them cope and transition back to working in office. 

Have an honest conversation with them and ask them how you can help them to reintegrate back into the workplace. With their direct feedback, you’ll have an easier time knowing what needs to be addressed and added to your return to work policy.

2. Form a Return to Work Planning Team

Form a return to work planning team. Ideally it should consist of key department managers and leads as well as representatives from your employees. It should include:

  • legal staff
  • HR
  • IT
  • health and safety personnel
  • any other relevant team 

It should also include external advisors and professionals equipped to deal with various situations. Examples include psychologists, public health experts, mental and health advisors. They can provide you with necessary advice and recommended guidelines for successfully reintegrating employees in a variety of situations. 

3. Develop a General Return to Work Plan

Once you've gpt a planning team in place and you’ve heard feedback from your employees, start formulating a plan for returning to work. Keep in mind that every company is different. So your plan needs to take into account your specific needs and circumstances. 

You’ll want to develop general guidelines that can be applied in different circumstances. Consider how you’ll train employees and get them up to speed with any workplace changes that happened in their absence. 

For example, if you’ve upgraded a key piece of software or equipment, they’ll need to be trained on how to use it. Similarly, if you’ve adopted any new policies, you’ll need to get them familiar with it. 

4. Develop an Individualized Return to Work Plan

Aside from a general return to work policy, you’ll want to develop an individualized plan as well. This plan should be more specific to particular situations and dealing with specific circumstances. 

For example, this plan could outline how to return to work safely in case of a natural disaster. Or it could cover how to practice safe return to work in case of a local or global disease outbreak. 

It’s worth mentioning that this plan should also be flexible enough to adapt to any possible government recommendations and guidelines. 

Individual Employee Return to Work Policy

As mentioned earlier, each company is unique. As such, your return to work policy should be tailored to your specific situation and circumstances. The same applies for your employees.

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Group of employees go back to work in the office after an extended absence. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Each of your employees are different. They might have stayed at home for different reasons. So, it stands to reason that you need to have a flexible return to work policy that’s tailored to individual employees. Here are a few things to keep in mind: 

1. Evaluate Employee Circumstances

The most important thing you can do when planning for an individual return to work policy is to evaluate employee circumstances. Remember, not every employee will have the same situation. 

Each employee's situation will dictate what needs to be included in the reintegration process. Also consider which extra measures and support needs to be added to ensure a successful return to work.

2. Provide Adequate and Relevant Training

If needed, you might need to provide your employee with adequate and relevant training. This is usually necessary if they stayed out of office for a very long time and you’ve implemented new policies, software, tools or equipment. 

Note that your employee doesn’t need to be trained on software or tools they’ll never use. Stick to what’s necessary for them to perform their tasks and be realistic about the time needed to adjust to the new tools.

3. Update Them on Any Changes

Likewise, if any changes happened in your workplace that your employee needs to be aware of, now is the time to update them. Here are some possible changes you may need to bring to their attention:

  • changes any internal procedures
  • new team members they need to work with or report to
  • updates your vacation or health insurance policies
  • and so on

Your employee will need to be brought up to speed before returning to work. 

4. Guarantee Privacy

No matter what type of situation the employee in question had to deal with, they’re not obligated to share that information with anyone else but those who need to know. They might not want to share reasons for staying at home. So make sure your employee's privacy is guaranteed. 

5. Consider Offering a Combination of Remote and In-Person Work

Returning to work after an extended period is no small feat. Your employees might be overwhelmed at first. So consider offering a combination of remote work and in-person work. 

This could mean they work from home two days per week and work at the office three days per week (or something similar). Then slowly transition into working from the office full-time again.

This type of hybrid approach can help reduce overwhelm and ease them into not only working from office but also to being surrounded with other people. 

Guidelines for Returning to Work After COVID-19

A year ago, the global COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies to transition into remote work. As more and more people get vaccinated and businesses start to reopen, it’s crucial to develop guidelines for returning to work safely after COVID-19

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Administering a health screening (Image source: Envato Elements)

Here are a few guidelines to consider for returning to work after COVID-19:

1. Implement Health Screenings

Your safety and the safety of your employees should be your number one consideration. Regular health screenings can help you identify the early signs of COVID-19 and prevent the disease from spreading throughout your entire company. 

2. Develop An Exposure Response Plan

Develop a plan for how you’ll handle responses to possible exposures. This might include keeping track of employee contacts in the company and notifying them in case of an infection. 

3. Provide Your Employees With PPE

If you don’t have separate offices for each employee, consider providing your employees with PPE. This is even more important if your employees are coming into contact with your customers and clients. 

4. Implement Proper Safety Measures

Aside from PPE, you should implement proper safety measures throughout your workplace. A few suggestions include: 

  • minimizing the amount of time spent interacting with others
  • keeping the required distance from others
  • limiting the number of people working in the same area
  • regularly sanitizing touched surfaces and objects
  • wearing a mask until everyone is fully vaccinated
  • educating employees on the risks of getting infected and symptoms to watch out for

5. Prioritize Facetime

If your company worked remotely for an extended period of time, it's important to prioritize facetime. Facetime is the amount of time employees spend face-to-face.

Too little facetime can have a negative impact on your company's culture. Team members might feel disconnected from one another. Consider implementing blocks of time that encourage casual conversations and interaction.

6. Reduce Meeting Times

Whether online or in-person, no one is too fond of meetings that run for long periods of time. Consider reducing meeting times to 30 minutes. This will not only make your meetings more efficient, but it'll also minimize the time spent interacting with others and free up time for more casual interactions. 

7. Stay on Top of Government and Health Department Guidelines

Stay on top of government and health department guidelines. The COVID-19 pandemic isn't over yet. The situation is ever evolving. That’s why you need to keep track of the latest developments so you can adjust your return to work policy as needed. 

Implement Your Return to Work Guidelines

Due to circumstances beyond our control, there are times when your employees might stay home for a prolonged period of time. That’s why having a set of guidelines and policies for returning to work is helpful and beneficial.

With the tips laid out in this article, you’ll be well on your way towards setting up and implementing your return to work policy. Good luck!

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