Recalling employees to the workplace is something that businesses have been planning for throughout the pandemic. It’s not a question of if, but when: timing is the most important factor, given that the pandemic evolves on at least a monthly basis. How effectively the coronavirus spreads, its resistance to prevention or treatment, and the types of responses different communities make against it all change on such frequent terms that it’s very difficult for businesses to get the right timing for issuing return-to-office directives.

It helps, however, that the population grows more protected on a daily basis. Documented vaccinations are finally nearing target numbers, taking communities closer to establishing herd immunity and cutting off the possibilities for the coronavirus to spread. In such regions where the pandemic response has progressed in an effective way, businesses may have greater confidence in directing their employees to return to the workplace – as is the case in several economic centers in the Philippines.

It is in this group of regions where businesses are strongly considering to have their employees return to the workplace. As can be expected, this is not an easy decision. The following questions can help you with your organization’s own deliberation and planning for having employees return to work.

Is returning to work the best thing for the people in your organization right now?

First thing’s first: determine how many of your employees need to return to work. It’s always an essential consideration for whatever preparations you plan to make. Whether it’s close to the headcount of your skeletal workforce, or as much as half your personnel, it will have an impact.

This is because you will also need to ensure that there are systems and protocols in place to ensure your employees’ safety, no matter how much of your pre-pandemic workplace capacity is restored. The effectiveness of these systems and protocols depends on how closely they are followed. For example, if you prepare for 40% of your employees returning to work but 50% of them are actually reporting back, then there may be concerns regarding space. If your organization is offering shuttle services for employees, the number of trips for each vehicle in the fleet will also depend on how many people have to be fetched from and transported back to their homes.

Outfitting and stocking supplies for your workplace will also be affected by the headcount. There must be adequate facilities and amenities for the number of people reporting back to the workplace, such as accessible hand sanitizer dispensers as well as pantry and restroom hygienic supplies.

And of course, this all has to be weighed against the anticipated impact on individual and team performance. Does their performance get better from having them return to the workplace, as compared to letting them work remotely? This can be clearly answered through comparing individual and team performance from before the pandemic against current performance.

Is everyone returning to work the best thing for your organization right now?

On the flip side, you of course have to consider what your organization is missing out on by having only a skeletal workforce. For instance, there may be integral processes that suffer from reduced productivity by not having the process owners at your premises.

Maybe they have limited access to company resources when working remotely? Perhaps connectivity issues are hampering their progress? Or, touching on data security, maybe they’ve recently begun to handle increasingly sensitive information?

In addition to these questions, the overall questions of productivity and better client response are essential. Does the company get more out of its personnel from having them return to the workplace, as compared to letting them work remotely? Are the organization’s objectives being met and is it getting the results it needs? And in the process, it’s also vital to see how a particular work arrangement translates to better response to customers’ or clients’ needs. After all, results matter most when they help meet the expectations of the people on the other side of a business relationship.

And of course, there will always be a question of what the company has to give up in exchange for getting people to reoccupy the workplace safely. This can be in the form of resources and supplies, utilities like electricity, water, and gas, as well as opportunities to better ensure safety protocols through a smaller headcount.

How can your organization create a balance between what’s best for it and for its people?

When your organization has considered all of the previously mentioned factors and still sees a net value gain in welcoming more employees back into the workplace, the obvious next step is to plan for the actual implementation.

Safety & health comes first. What’s best for everyone, across the board, is to protect the people who occupy your workplace for any given period of time. That includes employees and customers. If moving from a skeletal workforce to 50% or 60% occupancy does not hamper adherence to safety and health protocols, then it’s feasible.

Another consideration is whether employees gain better access to what they need to do their work more effectively. If the difference between remote working and reporting to the workplace is significant in this context, then it could be worth it to call more people back to the office. Your organization can increase this impact through adopting productivity-boosting strategies and methods, improving accessibility of resources and equipment within the workplace, and eliminating process and workflow bottlenecks. It also helps a lot if there are clear and proportionate goals that everyone can agree on. The accomplishment of these goals will heavily depend on each employee’s optimal work setup, which promotes maximum productivity while ensuring their safety.

Finally, your organization must ensure that the projected gains will translate into tangible results and better client interface. It must sustain on-site and digital platforms and channels through which employees can process and deliver output, collaborate with each other, and attend to the needs of partners and other customers, all at better efficiency than with remote working setups.

What about the opposite result – what if your organization decides that getting employees to return to the workplace isn’t worth the potential gain? Well, the fact remains that it’ll have to happen at some point in the future. Thus, your organization will gain much from addressing the factors that make it disadvantageous for employees to return to the workplace at present. It’ll help with planning for future implementations of return to office schedules and eventual complete reoccupation of your workplace. Figuring out if returning to the workplace is the right move at this point in the COVID-19 pandemic is certainly a tricky task. But proper consideration of the factors involved in this business decision can help any organization make the best choices for implementing it. As an eventual reality for workplaces everywhere, returning to work will require weeks if not months of planning ahead – and plans must account for what’s best for everyone involved.

Graphic element by tirachards via