From Shorts to Suits: 7 Tips to Help Smooth the Transition Back to the Office

July 7, 2021
Author: Rosie Greaves, Contributing Writer

Whether you are beginning to plan for your organization’s return to the office or have almost completed this big transition, there are several key things to consider when navigating this change. Many office-based employees are still working remotely, but with restrictions easing across the country, work environments are changing. As organizations prepare to bring people back to the office, it’s important to have a clear plan and to address employee concerns up front.

What preparation steps are important for a smooth return to the office?

Getting back to 'normal' will likely present several challenges that your human resources (HR) team should anticipate. With some thought, planning and flexibility, this can be a smooth transition for all involved – here are six tips to help you get there.

1. Prepare the Workplace to Meet Regulations

Before employees can return to work, your workplace needs to meet new safety guidelines and regulations, both federal from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local.

We're used to social distancing, and there's every chance it's here to stay for the foreseeable future. You may need to rearrange the office layout so that people can sit six feet apart. If your office space isn't big enough to accommodate social distancing, calculate your maximum capacity and prioritize which team members need to return.

In addition, thoroughly clean and disinfect the office before employees return. Pay extra attention to high-traffic areas and sanitize frequently touched surfaces such as: keyboards, door handles, light switches, handrails and the coffee pot handle. To help with hand hygiene, place easy-to-access hand sanitizer throughout the workspace and provide any necessary personal protective equipment (PPE).

It's also wise to improve your office's ventilation by installing air filtration systems and opening windows. Studies show this can reduce infections like COVID from spreading.

2. Ensure Employees Understand the Regulations and Why it’s Important to Comply

Along with creating a COVID-safe workplace, consistently communicate with employees about any new health and safety regulations and why everyone’s compliance is needed.

Your new protocols might include sanitation, social distancing, increased hand hygiene, face coverings, and enhanced illness protocols. If your organization requires vaccinations for employees, be sure to follow the current legal case law for your jurisdiction.

With things consistently changing, it’s important to keep the dialogue open and to create an environment where employees feel safe to speak up if they have suggestions, concerns or ideas.

3. Reset With a Reminder of Your Organization’s Values

When the pandemic hit, your team might have been in a great place. Perhaps they were all on the same page, collaborating with a shared vision and clear about your company’s core values?

That was more than one year ago. Anticipate that employees have changed. Their values may have shifted and new priorities emerged. Now is a good time to “press pause” and ground everyone in the organization’s values.

As you prepare to return remote employees to the office, it's essential to establish a plan to help re-align employees with your company values. This may involve providing workers with refresher training and a steady cadence of town halls - but at the very least, management needs to set the bar and lead by example.

4. Provide Re-Onboarding

HR can assist employees returning to the office with a thorough re-onboarding process. Unlike the onboarding undertaken when employees first join the ranks, use this as an opportunity to help ease the transition back into the office environment.

Arranging social activities, reaffirming goals and checking in more frequently will be essential for helping your team ease back into the office environment. Remember, there are various levels of comfort with social interaction, and with the prevalence of remote work, many may have never worked in an office environment. As such, this is a time where patience, appreciation and feedback are more important than ever before. Make sure there's a member of HR that employees can turn to if they have any questions or anxieties about coming back to work.

5. Turn the Dial (vs Flip a Switch)

It’s important to ease into the transition, as each person has unique challenges and concerns. For example, exposure to the virus still poses a significant threat for some employees such that returning to the office will be more stressful for them. There are also many lifestyle changes that will need to be adjusted – leaving pets, children and that favorite pair of shorts or house shoes behind. In addition, some employees will struggle with the loss of certain freedoms and flexibilities associated with working remotely.

Top Tip: Give workers plenty of notice that you require them to come back into the office; again, this will help make the transition much smoother.

For some, coming back to work could prove to be too much too soon, risking their mental health and productivity. To counteract this tricky time, HR needs to be patient with their teams and help wherever possible.

One way to lessen the impact is to offer a slower transition back to work. For example, employees could return to the office for one or two days a week and gradually increase the time spent in the workplace.

You should also make it your responsibility to provide mental health resources and promote well-being in the office wherever possible. Feelings of fear, anger and anxiety will likely be amplified. Some employees may have lost loved ones during the pandemic. It's crucial for employers to be empathetic and encourage self-care.

6. Address the Benefits and Concerns of Returning to the Office

While many employees may have missed working with their teams in person, others will struggle with the idea of coming back. More than 65% of employees want to work remotely full-time post-pandemic, and many employees are voting with their feet – with more than four million leaving their jobs in April alone.

Understandably, employees may have concerns, including health and childcare. Other employees may have saved time and money with no daily commute and could be reluctant to give that up. The flexibility of working from home supports a better work-life balance and grants many employees some much sought-after autonomy.

There’s a lot of pressure on employers to make offices COVID-safe/ready. Not only that, but thanks to the labor shortage, there's a demand for salary bumps for employees unable to work from home. With so much to manage, it's worth considering whether returning to the office is genuinely the right call for your whole team.

It's worth doing some research using a tool like LaborIQ that empowers you to accurately determine the appropriate salary for your workers, both in terms of their job role and geography. With this data at your fingertips, you can have confidence that you're offering a competitive total compensation package to help sweeten the deal.


Before making any decisions, bear in mind that shifting to remote work, even after the pandemic, has its benefits:

• Due to fewer interruptions, better focus, quieter work environments and a more comfortable workplace, 51% of employees are more productive working from home.

• Many employees wishing to work remotely after the pandemic are willing to take a 10-20% pay cut to make this possible.

• Due to the improved work-life balance and more autonomy in their roles, remote work can improve job satisfaction and increase both staff retention and employee engagement.

If your team has successfully navigated the challenges of remote work, consider whether a continuation of this setup might be the more beneficial option for your business.

7. Consider a Hybrid Approach

There are pros and cons to both remote and office-based work models. As such, a hybrid approach might present a happy medium between the two. You might consider designing a schedule where your team rotates going into the office.

Another hybrid approach worth considering is enabling some of your team to remain remote. Other vital members of staff (and employees who prefer working in the office) could return to the office full-time.

The hybrid approach is definitely not black and white- it's about assessing the needs of your company and employees and crafting the best possible solution for everyone. This may take some trial and error, but often it's worth the effort in the long run – remain flexible and keep the lines of communication open.

Return Employees Back to the Office the Right Way

We stand at the much-awaited dawn where in-person work is possible once more. For many teams, this is fantastic news. After the initial transition period, many employees and managers will be glad to collaborate in person again.

But not everyone has missed working in the office. As we prepare for this next change, it’s essential to carefully analyze whether the old norm is still the best cause of action for your business. Listen to your employees and learn from their experiences. Returning to the office won’t be the best choice for every worker or company. Your business might benefit from introducing flexible hybrid approaches or transitioning to remote working entirely.

Related Articles:
Is a Hybrid Workplace in Your Future?
Is Your Employee Onboarding Designed for Retention?