Returning to the Office: What Experts Say

Apr 30

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In various cities and in various stages, companies are getting closer to returning to the office. To help some of our clients make these plans, we’ve been creating tools like an enhanced health & safety guide, and in support of that, we wanted to connect with some experts to make sure we’re giving our community strong, sound advice.

We first caught up with George Georgopoulos, who has 20 years experience in health & safety. He’s consulted for many companies including Tim Hortons Distribution Centres, mostly specializing in office & warehouse safety. He’s also spent seven years consulting in post-secondary environments (six years at Sheridan College and the last 18 months at Mohawk College), so we figured he’d have some good advice for safely returning to the office.

What are your thoughts on how businesses can prepare for a safer office environment?

Each workplace is unique, so I’d recommend a conversation between a sub-committee of managers to say, “What kind of things do we need to put in a place before we return to the office?”

Does your office have the capacity to handle physical distancing? Do you have sanitizing products? A screening process? Proper cleaning protocol? People should be using a disinfect-level of clean, and it can be tough to find these products right now, so if you’re thinking of opening, make sure you have these products in place (including masks).

Also, there will still be crowd restrictions, so if your office normally houses 50 people, you may have to consider welcoming one set of 25 employees in-office one week, and the other 25 the next week, scheduling a deep clean in between.

What would a screening process entail?

It mainly consists of a questionnaire you have at the door; with questions like, “Do you have any symptoms? A fever? Any international travel?” Some places are doing an infrared temperature check, so if you register over a certain temperature, you’re told to go home. Those are steps I would consider. 

What are your thoughts on workplace food programs during/after covid?

I’d put a pause on the buffet. If companies want to try a family-style meal it should include only one person serving, with a sneeze guard over the food. Buffet-style serving opens up more variables for transmission, versus individually packaged meals, which would be ideal.

Interesting you mention that, we’ve spent the last few weeks working with our food providers to ensure all meals are individually packaged. What’s your advice for how to communicate health & safety measures to employees?

You want to show you care about your people. A good health & safety program really does good things for employee engagement because you’re demonstrating that you care. You also have to be careful what you communicate, and back up what you’re saying. People’s BS meter is pretty sensitive these days, with all of the misinformation that’s out there.

Any other recommendations for companies right now?

Talk to your employees about wellness while working from home. Address the raised anxiety people are experiencing. Make them feel supported. And communicate regularly. If you go a couple of weeks without an update, people start wondering what’s going on and their minds wander into the negative.

People are looking for good leadership. They want to know that their company cares about them. So take health & safety steps that are reasonable, and believe in them. Don’t just do it to check a box. Show them you genuinely care.

On the quest for more perspectives, we also connected with Tina Landry. Tina’s been developing and managing safe work cultures since 2009, earning over a decade of occupational health & safety experience in construction and manufacturing. She’s always had a passion for safety and as the senior safety consultant at AEC Safety Solutions, she works closely with clients ranging from home-owners to 50-storey high-rises.

What would you recommend for companies planning to return to the office (government approval permitting)?

I would consider a phased approach where critical workers are brought in first. Bring in those few necessary personnel to get revenue going while the rest work from home, and phase it in like that. You don’t want to just bring everyone back in and have everything operating the same as before.

What should employers keep in mind when communicating to their teams during this time?

Transparency. Be concise and clear. Make sure whatever you’re communicating on whatever channels is consistent, and that only a few sources deliver the updates. Otherwise, you get people saying, “Well this person’s manager said this, and that person’s manager said that.” I highly recommend posting regular bulletins from key people (email is best), on a weekly basis for the time being.

Any high priorities worth mentioning?

Hand sanitizer HAS to be available. Workers should be encouraged to have their own, bring their own, keep one in their car, we cannot wash and sanitize our hands enough; some of my clients are having their washrooms cleaned twice a day and deep cleaned once a week.

Other than the sanitizing, distancing, and possibly masks, the highest priorities right now are strong communication channels, and a focus on the mental health of your employees.

Final words of wisdom for companies right now?

Everyone just needs to work together. Our priority is to assist our clients so they can keep working safely, earning revenue, and keeping their workers employed.

Sounds like a plan to us! We owe a big thanks to both health & safety experts for their insight on safely returning to the office. If you’d like to receive a free copy of our health & safety guide click here or if you’d like to learn more about how to reintroduce your food & culture programs, connect with us and we’ll book a free consultation for you.

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