Returning to the Office

Returning to the Office: What to Consider

Returning to the OfficeAs employees return to the office after more than a year of working from home, it’s inevitable that office rules will change. Things won’t return entirely to pre-pandemic routines. Here are some rule changes to consider:

Work arrangements

Many employees have become accustomed to working from home and aren’t keen on returning to the office (leaving COVID-19 concerns aside). Some companies have delayed returns (e.g., Google postponed returns until January 2022). But those seeing employees return now are adopting more flexible arrangements. For example, some are allowing employees to work from home other than requiring attendance at the office a certain number of days each month (called a hybrid work arrangement). Set your policy: once a week? only for meetings? a minimum of 5 days each month?.

Even if employees return to the office full time, scheduling may look different. Employees working from home during the pandemic may have worked odd hours to make things work within a family setting. For example, they may have started early to take time off to assist their children with remote learning. Flexibility in work hours and schedules may help employees who continue to cope with family and other responsibilities if this doesn’t conflict with your business requirements. Allowing them to set their schedules—provided they complete the requisite number of hours—is a win-win. It enables social distancing at the office while acknowledging the needs of employees’ work-life balance.

Office attire

Casual Friday and more informal wear at many offices had become the norm before the pandemic. However, during the stay-at-home period, many employees became accustomed to dressing in pajamas, sweatpants, and other non-business attire. While it’s unlikely that these outfits would be acceptable in all office settings, it’s fairly certain that rules for office attire will be relaxed from pre-pandemic standards. What you might consider:

  • Crafting policies based on job description. Those who must deal with the public may be required to dress differently (formal business attire) from back-office staff (jeans and flip flops).
  • Relaxing but not abolishing formal wear. Some offices have axed the ties but still require suits or sports jackets. Comfort may be a new standard while maintaining some formality.
  • Trying different dress codes to find an ideal standard. For example, expand casual Friday rules for all business days. Involve employees in the decision-making.

Pets

Many employees who’ve been working from home have become used to having their pets close by. Do you want to permit them to bring animals to the office? Consider:

  • Legality. There is no federal prohibition on having pets in the workplace. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that you permit service animals for employees that need them. Some locations may also say that “assistive animals” use for emotional support are a reasonable accommodation for some employees under the ADA.
  • Rent terms. If you rent your business premises, be sure that the terms of the lease permit pets on the premises.
  • Liability exposure. Who is responsible if a dog bites someone on your premises…you or the dog’s owner? A business may be held liable, so make sure the business owner’s policy (BOP) covers this risk. Also consider requiring an employee to carry his/her own liability insurance and, by agreement as a condition to bringing the pet, indemnify the company’s responsibilities.
  • Property damage. The same concerns should be considered for damage to your premises caused by pets.
  • Feelings/concerns of others. Some employees may have allergies to or fears of animals. Determine whether these issues can be adequately addressed before permitting pets in the workplace.

Final thought

The bottom line is that you need to adapt to the times. You know your business best, but if possible, try different solutions for changes before setting policy. Involve employees in this decision-making process. To quote Bob Dylan: “The Times They Are a Changin’.”

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