Navigating return to work HR surprises

By now, you might be bringing your employees back to the worksite or might just be putting return-to-work plans in motion. We brought our team back with a hybrid arrangement on March 1st, celebrating being in the office with Mardi Gras decorations, New-Orleans inspired food and a feel-good vibe!

It was the first time in nearly 2 years that our entire team had been under one roof at the same time.  As a business owner, I have to say that it was exhilarating to have my team together again.  Knowing that my people were okay, to engage with them human to human, and to experience the true camaraderie among our people was fantastic.

As you gear up to bring people back, here’s the most important thing to remember. Each of your team members is an individual. Some people are lonely at home and can’t wait for the human interaction. There are others who see the return to the worksite as a sign that things are finally returning to some semblance of normalcy.

Others will not be so eager. For those with caregiving responsibilities, the return might feel premature. The same could be said for people who have an immunocompromised loved one or unvaccinated babies or toddlers at home. Some may be dreading commuting again. Others may be reluctant to give up the comforts of home they’ve grown to enjoy. Think: sweatpants and midday grocery store runs.

How do you keep every person happy?

The short answer is to manage your own expectations of your team. Like any change in business, there will be objections. The longer answer is to anticipate different scenarios, decide what’s best for the company, be prepared for surprises along the way and remain flexible.

I spoke about the need for flexibility with Philadelphia Business Journal reporter Jeff Blumenthal for a cover story entitled, The Flexibility Variant. You can read it here.

Let’s take a closer look at some common issues that businesses are experiencing with return to work.

Accommodation requests


What happens when an employee requests an exception to the rule, say they ask to work from home permanently or they want to forego vaccination requirements—especially for medical or religious reasons? There’s a delicate balance among often competing forces: the needs of individual employees, your need for talent and the operational demands of your business. There are also compliance issues, especially if the employee requesting the exception is a member of a protected class.

The bottom line here is to ensure that you are aware of the laws around accommodation requests, have written policies in place surrounding them and training for your frontline supervisors. Even the best managers are often unprepared for delicate conversations surrounding accommodations unless properly trained and coached.

Hybrid flexibility

Let’s say your flexible work arrangement involves employees in the office three days a week. What happens when someone calls in on one of those days to say they are going to work from home? You know that the employee can be productive from their remote office. Yet a request like this defeats the purpose of bringing everyone back to the worksite. It’s a sticky situation, right? One solution: give your team members a certain number of flex-hybrid days a year. Once taken, they will have to use PTO time.

In-person meetings

Comfortability with in-person meetings is a common theme we’ve heard from clients. Naturally, you want team members to use conference rooms, instead of meeting on Zoom while they are at the worksite. At NEMR Total HR, we invested in a whole-office air purification system, we reconfigured offices to eliminate any overcrowding and we have always followed guidance from the CDC. Sometimes it’s a matter of reminding people of details like these.

If you’ve taken positive measures to keep your employees safe throughout the pandemic, it is possible to alleviate their worries. Continually reassuring them that their safety is a top priority can increase everyone’s comfort level. So too is being up to date on COVID case numbers in your region and state. Being able to reassure concerned individuals that the threat of COVID transmission is very low goes a long way.

 Masks optional

Treating each of your employees with respect and dignity is essential to building and maintaining trust. Making sure their co-workers do the same is key to a productive and happy team. Now that mask mandates are being relaxed, some staff members may still choose to wear them. Remind everyone to respect others’ decisions regarding masks. Here’s another reminder to your staff: adhere to one another’s comfort level with social distancing.

Need help with return-to-work plans? An expert HR advisor like NEMR Total HR can offer counsel, strategies and implementation. Chat with us or email us here.