Lessons We’ve Learned While Returning to Work

June 23, 2021

Alchemer HQ has Reopened

By the Alchemer HR Team 

As Colorado and the Greater Denver area relax Covid restrictions, we have begun welcoming our employees back to our main office. Here are some of the lessons we learned as we reopened.  

Understand Your Employees: Return to Work

When we decided to reopen, we wanted to understand people’s concerns and challenges with coming back to work. We ran the Alchemer Return to Work survey, and we were somewhat surprised by the results. It turned out not everyone shared the executive team’s excitement about returning to the office.  Many were hesitant, and for a variety of reasons.   

Several employees had adopted pets (a common trend, with shelters everywhere emptying for the first time), some had new children, others had changes to their child-care situations, several had moved further from the office, and some had started working at Alchemer during the pandemic and didn’t know what “working in the office” looked like. A few were simply unsure of the safety of working in a group environment again.

A lot had changed in people’s lives, and they had adapted to a work-from-home lifestyle.  Going back to work in an office was a disruption to the new normal. By understanding our employees’ challenges and concerns, we were able to create a timeline for returning to the office that allowed people to arrange for child and pet care, to emotionally prepare for the change, and for the company to address health concerns related to working in an office. Together we figured out the best timing

Keep Everyone Healthy: Daily Health Assessments 

To keep our employees healthy, and to comply with government regulations, employees must now complete a health assessment every day before they come to work. The health assessments also provide a record of everybody who has come into the office in case there is an outbreak, and we need to manage contact-tracing protocols.

Most people have the assessment on their phones so they can complete it easily. However, we did discover that it is easy to forget to complete the assessment before arriving at the office, so we added a QR code with it on all the doors.  In addition to the health assessment, we also communicate and enforce state guidelines for mask-wearing.

Stay Connected: New Conversations 

The pandemic has changed the way we do and think about many different things. We’re also having conversations on topics we never thought we’d be having at work.

Vaccinations have always been a personal matter. Now that subject is front and center in the workplace.

Can you work in the office if you’re not vaccinated? Do you have to prove that you are vaccinated? What if you can’t be vaccinated for health, religious, or other personal reasons? Does the company have a right to this information? This is new territory for businesses, and talking about it is the best way for teams to work through these questions.  

Equally, people almost never discussed concerns about being in a building with other people prior to the pandemic. A conversation about a safe work environment used to focus mainly on other peoples’ behavior – now it must include more traditional health concerns as well. Open dialogue about office cleanliness and how suppliers and other visitors must demonstrate health compliance is very important to helping people feel comfortable about returning to the office.

Be Aware: New Habits and Old Habits 

One of the biggest challenges every company will face is that everyone has developed new work habits over the last 14 months. We’ve become accustomed to our new normal, which has blended home life with work life.  

Working from home has meant no commute and not having to put on shoes. It also meant being immediately present for young children, pets, and elderly parents.  Going back to work requires dusting off old habits – lining up care for those who need it or getting up early enough to make the train or drive the commute. Something as basic as thinking about lunch once again requires planning ahead versus simply opening the refrigerator.

Identifying and restoring old habits will take some thought and time, as overcoming inertia and embracing change are rarely easy. Talk about the changes people need to make in order to return to the office. Remind each other that we all did it before.

Brush Up: Social Skills 

Working from home has made it easy to disconnect from people because they aren’t sharing the same physical space with you. But in-person conversations do not come with a mute button, and it’s much harder to get away with multi-tasking in person. As we’ve started coming back together, we’ve noticed we’re all a bit rusty at being around people.

On one hand, we know more about each other personally because our homes were often our Zoom backgrounds, and pets and children often joined our calls. But we need to brush up again on what it means to be in conference rooms together, to work in cubes, and to respect each other’s physical space. We don’t need our computers to communicate anymore – we can look each other in the eyes and connect three-dimensionally. Let’s remember how to do that.

Be Patient

Being more patient is probably one of the skills we will all need to embrace. Getting back to normal will take time as people emerge from their home offices and figure out how to operate in a post-pandemic world. This is true not only for employees, but for vendors and suppliers as well. 

Especially office supply companies, many of whom made significant changes to their staffing to weather the downturn in business created by everyone working from home. We have a supplier who previously handled just the greater Denver area, but is now responsible for the whole state. As more businesses come back to work, we hope they can return to the old coverage model, but for now, our supplier can’t be as responsive as they were before the pandemic, and we need to be more patient as a result. 

Recognize This is New For Everyone 

There hasn’t been a similar pandemic for more than 100 years, so there is no playbook for how we all come back together. Some will eagerly embrace a return to the office, while others will be hesitant.

And some things that were common before will likely change or disappear altogether. For now, we at Alchemer have stopped donut and bagel days just because we’re not sure if it’s safe or proper. Will they come back? We’ll have to see. When we see each other for the first time, how do we greet each other? Hug? Shake hands? Fist bump? Wave? We need to work that out, too.

At Alchemer, we believe it’s important that we come out of our home offices, basements, and attics and figure out how to return to working together safely. We believe we serve our customers better when we can brainstorm and whiteboard and solve problems in the same room. For various reasons, not everyone can or will return to the office, but we know we’re a better company when most of us are together. Our aim is to come back together thoughtfully, deliberately, and with consideration for all that has changed.

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