7 Tips for Returning to the Office Inclusively and Safely


by Rachel Dowling

HR professionals and company execs are wrestling with many questions around returning to the office. But from the point of view of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, what is the best way to return to the office? 

Below we have gathered 7 tips to navigate the return to the office that is inclusive, respectful, and safe. 

1. Make sure your office has proper equipment

The first step to making an office-based or hybrid work environment friendly to all your employees is to make sure that you are equipped. Make sure your conference rooms have sanitizer, wipes, and are well ventilated. Ensure that cleaning materials are on hand so that your office can be tidied and sanitized. 

You should also make sure computer equipment and audio-visuals are on hand to facilitate video calls in conference rooms. A key part of returning to office inclusively is making sure that folks who are still at home are included in virtual meetings.

2. Offer flexibility to parents and caregivers

All employees enjoy flexibility in their work hours and work location. But parents are especially appreciative of an employer who will allow them to work around school drop off and pickup, or unexpected school-from-home days. As children's school times will be unpredictable in the 2021 fall and winter due to the Delta variant, the best HR policy to be inclusive to caregivers is a flexible one. 

We suggest at least 2-3 days a week that are flexible and not mandatory to be in the office. This will be most accommodating to parents in your team. 

3. Avoid discrimination claims based on vaccine status during the interview process

For companies mandating vaccines, employment counsel advice is to share that the company has a mandatory vaccine policy in the job description. However, don't ask candidates about their vaccine status until an offer letter is extended. This reduces a claim of discrimination in case the candidate doesn't receive an offer and blames it on sharing their vaccine status

4. Ask employees who were exposed to Covid to stay home

It is safer for all if potentially contagious employees stay home. This is also true for caregivers whose children were exposed in school. You should ask staff to stay home and avoid contact with colleagues if they have been exposed to Covid. Here is a sample policy statement that you can use to implement this change: 

Any employee who has had recent contact with an individual known to have tested positive for coronavirus, or any employee that has been exposed to a recent high-risk situation, such as travel to a known virus "hot spot", or who has had close contact with an individual from a high-risk area, should inform their supervisor and stay at home for seven days and it is suggested they take a COVID-19 test before returning.

5. Start a discussion group on how to humanize the hybrid workplace

Invite your staff to voluntarily participate in a discussion group on humanizing the hybrid work space. Having employees take part in the discussion will generate more ideas than your HR team or exec team alone could have come up with. And it will result in greater buy-in for the results and recommendations that come out of it. Being heard is a major human need, and you will do your employees a service to listen to them.

6. Measure the sentiment of your employees, listen for inclusion 

Staying up to date on the mood of your employees is key to understanding how they are feeling and what needs to be done. Tools like Equalicert allow you to measure employee sentiment with a specific eye on inclusion. This is critical for you to feel confident that you are paying attention to employees from each demographic group, and can be attuned to the ways in which your company culture are changing during and after the pandemic. 

7. Managers should set explicit goals and deadlines

All employees will benefit from having a clear attention on must-do items. Managers should set specific targets & deadlines for their teams. Explicit goals enable caregivers to hone their focus to work on projected related tasks with dedication and clear expectations.