James River Capital Shares 5 Tips For Safely Reopening Offices In 2021

In the depths of the pandemic, many businesses, like James River Capital, couldn’t imagine reopening their offices. Fortunately, as the population becomes vaccinated against COVID-19, many businesses are calling staff back to work.

Although many businesses want to reopen by June of 2021, many employees are less than enthusiastic about the change. 80% of office workers don’t want to go back to the office, at least in a full-time capacity. If you’re demanding that staff return without accounting for their preferences or post-pandemic anxieties, your organization risks losing valuable employees.

Although there are many benefits to remote work, your organization might be ready to return to the office if:

  • Remote work is causing disruptions to your productivity and workload.
  • You have a public-facing business that requires in-person work.
  • Your employees are eagerly voicing their desire to return to the office.
  • Your state and municipal guidelines say it’s safe to do so, provided you follow COVID-19 guidelines.

Your leadership team might want to return to business as usual, but “normal” is still a far-off dream. As you plan your return to the office, it’s time to reevaluate your workplace.

You can’t pretend the pandemic never happened: the best way to move forward is to honor employees’ expectations with a collaborative, team-led return to the office. Paul Saunders from James River Capital shares his leadership team’s 5 suggestions to safely call workers back to the office.

About James River Capital

Along with his business partner, Paul Saunders acquired James River Capital back in 1995. In the 25 years since founding the company, Paul has served as CEO and Chairman of the Richmond, Virginia, company.

Today, Paul puts his 30+ years of experience in finance to work for James River Capital’s products. James River Capital’s goal is to balance portfolios, using different asset classes of alternative investments, to optimize for both risk and returns.

Time to go to work: 5 tips to reopen offices after COVID-19

Like many businesses, James River Capital offered flexible work options to employees at the height of the pandemic. But as the world learns to live in the shadow of COVID-19, it’s clear that leaders aren’t sure what to do.

Should you call your team back to the office? Should office work become mandatory? How can you keep your employees comfortable and safe?

Every business is different, but the James River Capital team recommends following these 5 steps to make the most thoughtful and effective transition back into office life.

1 – Create an office safety committee

This committee should be made up largely of employees, but it should also include a few members of leadership and HR. Charge your committee with drafting communications plans, a workplace layout, and other policies.

Draft COVID-19 office policies

Your office can’t return to business as usual without guidelines in place. At a minimum, your office safety committee should find ways for your business to follow CDC guidelines.

You likely already have some kind of COVID-19 policies, but these will need to be revised for operating in an office building. James River Capital suggests that your plan cover issues like:

  • Cleaning and hygiene.
  • Pre-entry screening.
  • Mask requirements.
  • Social distancing.
  • Vaccination requirements.
  • PTO for COVID-19 exposure or vaccination appointments.
  • Quarantine requirements after personal or work travel.
  • Visitor guidelines.

Create a COVID-19 internal communications plan

Ask your office safety committee to draft a communications plan. The plan should explain why your organization is returning to the office. This will help employees understand the true benefits of the move so it doesn’t come across as an arbitrary decision.

The plan should spell out who will come back to the office and under what circumstances. For example, maybe the office is only for client meetings or for employees to work in person three days a week.

2 – Give your employees a voice

James River Capital suggests that you don’t finalize your COVID-19 policies until employees can review them. What sounds like a bulletproof plan to your leadership team and safety committee might not work for all of your employees.

Always give your employees a say in these plans. Otherwise, you risk coming off as too prescriptive and insensitive to their needs, which can hurt morale and retention.

Create an anonymous survey where employees can vote and voice their opinions about the new office policies. Ask your office safety committee to review these surveys and adjust your policies as needed before finalizing them.

3 – Determine who comes back and when

Social distancing requirements might make it impossible for you to bring your entire team back to the office at one time. So, who does your business bring back to the office?

Remember that this isn’t the time to mandate your employees’ return. You want people to come back to the office when they feel comfortable doing so.

Ask your team if anyone would like to come back. While some of your workers will stay remote, chances are good that others want to come back to the office of their own volition. You also might need to call back employees with client-facing jobs or whose jobs can’t be easily performed from home.

From there, ask your vaccinated employees if they would like to return. Requiring vaccinations or inquiring about vaccination status gets into tricky territory, so watch your language.

Some employees won’t feel comfortable returning for the foreseeable future. If that’s the case, offer them flexible work arrangements. That might mean staggering work hours so fewer people are in the office at one time. It also might mean a dual environment where part of your employees work at the office and the other half are remote.

4 – Change your workplace layout

Social distancing requirements mean the popular open office plan isn’t feasible. Ask your office safety committee to inspect your current workplace layout. You may need to make adjustments like:

  • Spreading desks apart.
  • Adding dividers or cubicles.
  • Setting occupancy limits on shared spaces, like the break room or conference rooms.
  • Creating outdoor seating for gatherings.

James River Capital also recommends asking your employees if they need accommodations in their workspace. Try to respect their needs and accommodate where you can to reduce employee anxiety.

5 – Keep the office clean

Pre-pandemic, offices weren’t the cleanest places. When you call your employees back to the office during a pandemic, you have to take hygiene seriously.

That means taking measures like:

  • Hiring a professional cleaning crew.
  • Offering masks, wipes, and hand sanitizer to employees.
  • Installing an air filtration system to neutralize airborne germs.
  • Posting signage about hand washing, mask requirements, social distancing, and more.

You’ve seen how quickly a cold can pass through the office; don’t encourage the spread of COVID-19. Keep your space as sanitary as possible to preserve your employees’ health.

The bottom line

Your leadership team is going through an unprecedented challenge. As vaccination rates increase, it’s tempting for businesses to make a return to the office. But just because you’re eager to return, it doesn’t mean your team is ready.

Leaders can quell employee anxiety while returning to some sense of “normal” with these 5 tips from the James River Capital leadership team. Although the pandemic has changed the status quo on a near-weekly basis since 2020, careful planning will help you have a more successful transition back into office life. Do everything you can to make your employees comfortable so your team can enjoy the benefits of working face-to-face again.