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Return to Work Plan For 2023 [TEMPLATE INCLUDED]

Returning to the office in 2023? Ensure a smooth return with these guidelines and best practices.

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A return to work (RTO) plan is a document employers create to ensure the safe and smooth return of employees, both physically and emotionally. This includes outlining processes, requirements, restrictions, and necessary communication. 

ResumeBuilder.com surveyed employers on their RTO plans and found that 90% will require employees to return to the office in 2023. In this blog, we’ll share what to consider before creating your return to work plan and how to successfully make the transition. 

Should you make employees return?

The first question you might be asking is if you should mandate a return to the office in the first place. There are pros and cons to bringing employees back to the office, and it’s important to be aware of them so you can determine if the decision is right for your business. Perhaps the biggest benefit of employees returning to the office is the opportunity for in-person collaboration. In many ways, being together in an office is more conducive to productive teamwork and bonding than hopping on a Zoom call. 

Eric Mochancz, Director of Operations at Red Clover, explains the positive impact of returning to the office: 

“We have always felt that some of the best learning does occur when we’re together and can engage in impromptu conversations that happen throughout the day.” 

But you should remember that a return to work plan might not be well-received by your employees. Many employees may have become used to the perks of working from home and will be reluctant to give it up. In fact, Buffer’s 2022 State of Remote Work report found that 97% of employees would like to work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of their careers. What’s more, 86% want either fully remote or remote-first work environments. 

Forcing employees to return to the workplace could lead to feelings of resentment and disengagement, and you may see rates of absenteeism and turnover increase as a result. Many businesses have chosen to implement a hybrid policy that allows employees to work remotely a few days per week to prevent dissatisfaction. 

Shirley Borg, Head of Human Resources at Energy Casino, shares the approach her business took to RTO: 

“We recognized that many employees had grown accustomed to working from home during the pandemic and desired the flexibility that remote work provides. To balance this desire with our need to maintain a collaborative and productive work environment, we created a hybrid model that allows employees to work from home a certain number of days each week, while also requiring them to be in the office for certain meetings and collaborative projects.”

What happens if an employee tests positive for COVID?

Your return to work plan should include guidelines for what an employee should do if they test positive for COVID-19. This will ease employees’ concerns about returning to the office and highlight your commitment to employee health and safety. 

According to the latest CDC guidelines, individuals who test positive should stay home for at least five days and isolate from others. This is when they are most infectious and likely to spread the virus. Below are the current recommendations for ending isolation: 

  • Individuals may end isolation after five days if they had no symptoms or if they are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication. 
  • If symptoms are not improving after five days, individuals should continue to isolate until they are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication and their symptoms are improving. 
  • Individuals who had symptoms and moderate illness (they experienced shortness of breath or had difficulty breathing) should isolate through day 10. 
  • Individuals who had severe illness (they were hospitalized) or have a weakened immune system should isolate through day 10 and consult their doctor before ending isolation. 
  • Regardless of when they end isolation, individuals should avoid close contact with people who are at increased risk to get very sick from COVID-19 and wear a high-quality mask until at least day 11. 
  • If COVID-19 symptoms recur or worsen after individuals have ended isolation, they should restart their isolation at day 0. 

Allowing remote work

Choosing whether or not to allow remote work will be one of the most important, if not the most important, decisions you make regarding your return to work plan. Carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages before you determine your approach. 

Pros and cons of remote work

Benefits of remote work

Like it or not, remote work is quickly becoming the norm. A 2022 Gallup survey found that only two in 10 remote-capable employees were working fully on-site with about the same number expecting to be completely on-site in the future — down from 60% in 2019. Here are four reasons why more businesses are embracing it: 

1. Improved productivity 

Opponents of remote work often claim that employees are less productive at home — but some studies show the opposite. For many employees, a remote environment is more conducive to deep work and allows them to concentrate on their projects without the distractions of the office. 

Owl Lab’s 2022 State of Remote Work report found that 62% of employees feel more productive when working remotely, while only 11% feel less productive. Employees felt remote work was most productive for working independently (69%), thinking creatively (58%), and focusing (54%).

2. Greater employee satisfaction 

Employee satisfaction rates tend to improve when employees have more flexibility to work remotely at least some of the time. The extra cost and time of commuting, increased childcare burden, and lack of flexible scheduling are among the reasons why employee satisfaction might suffer under a strict RTO plan. Slack’s Future Forum Pulse survey investigated how inflexible return to work plans were impacting employee experience scores. It discovered that full-time office workers reported the steepest declines across the eight employee sentiment measures it surveyed:

  • 2x as steep a drop in work-life balance compared to flexible (hybrid and remote) employees
  • 1.6x as steep a drop in overall satisfaction with their working environment compared to flexible workers 
  • 1.5x worsening work-related stress and anxiety compared to remote employees

3. Cost savings for employees

Allowing remote work means that your employees can save more money on the expenses associated with in-office work. Hybrid workers save $19.11 each day they work from home instead of the office, according to Owl Labs. In-office workers spend twice as much as remote workers ($862/month vs. $431/month) with the biggest expenses being their commute ($15 a day on average) and lunch ($13 a day on average). 

4. Reduced employee turnover

Forcing employees to return to the office full-time could spark a wave of resignations. ADP Research Institute found that 64% of the workforce would consider searching for a new job if they were required to return to the office full-time. More than half (52%) would even take a pay cut of up to 11% to guarantee more flexibility. 

Disadvantages of remote work

Of course, there are also downsides to forgoing time in the office. Here are a few potential roadblocks you may run into if you’re considering creating a remote work policy:

1. A lack of in-person collaboration 

As great as working remotely might be for deep work and independent projects, many agree that the office is better for collaboration and teamwork. Owl Labs found that 44% of employees say the office is more productive for collaborating and 43% find it more productive for getting consensus. A good approach might be to provide employees flexibility on when they come into the office so they can structure their week around both deep work and collaborative projects. 

2. Inequities created by proximity bias

For employers that have both in-office and remote employees, there is growing concern around proximity bias, or the idea that leadership may show favoritism toward employees who work alongside them in a physical office. According to Owl Labs, 41% of executives cite the potential for inequities to develop between remote and in-office employees as their number one concern about flexible work.

3. Early-career disadvantages

Employees who are early in their careers might find that remote work doesn’t provide them the same opportunities as in-office work to network and advance in their careers. Glassdoor research of benefits reviews by seniority level revealed that entry-level workers have the lowest work from rating (4.3 out of 5) compared to mid-senior (4.6), director level (4.6), and executive (4.7) roles. 

4. Feelings of social isolation

Company culture is a huge determinant of employee happiness and productivity, but it can be hard to build a strong culture while working remotely. Studies have shown that 67% of workers aged 18-34 have found it harder to make friends and maintain relationships with colleagues. Almost three-quarters (71%) felt their colleagues were more distant, and 54% said that long-term remote work has caused them to drift apart from their colleagues.

Companies with remote employees may need to put more thought into how they can creatively nurture strong relationships despite being physically distributed. For example, companies like Automox and Muck Rack provide stipends that employees can use to grab a virtual coffee or a meal with coworkers so they can create social connections. 

Measuring the impact of your return to work plan

A return to work plan is incomplete without a clear sense of how your company will measure its effectiveness. Tracking certain metrics can help you gauge the success of your plan and assess whether you need to make any changes. 

1. Turnover

One of the most important metrics to keep an eye on is employee turnover. If you notice that turnover increases after employees return to the office, it’s a good indicator that employees are not happy with the change. Of course, other factors could contribute to an increase in turnover. To gain a better understanding of the impact of your RTO plan on turnover, you should examine trends in turnover data over time along with differences in turnover between remote and in-person employees if you have both segments. Exit interviews are also a great source of insight into the reasons for turnover. 

2. Performance and productivity

Measuring performance and productivity can help you understand how a return to the office impacts business continuity. There are several metrics you can use, including performance review scores, self-assessment data, and output. For employees with client-facing roles, you can also track various client success metrics. 

Eric Mochancz says Red Clover measures established engagement metrics to assess productivity toward client work: 

“As a consulting firm that tracks our time, we are able to measure where and how each of us is spending our time. In doing so, we’re able to measure productivity toward client work based on our established engagement metrics. Based on our utilization and realization rates and scheduled client hours, are we meeting those internal metrics? And are they influenced by remote work? We look at the productivity of our members through remote and in-office work and reconfigure and manage expectations if we see any trends in their tracked time.”

3. Employee engagement

Engaged employees are more productive and loyal to your organization. When engagement declines, you’ll likely see other areas such as turnover and performance suffer as well. The best way to isolate whether engagement issues are due to your return to work plan is to conduct an employee engagement survey before returning to the office and again once the transition is complete. When analyzing the results, ask the following questions:

  • Are employees more engaged after returning to the office?
  • Are employees returning to the office more or less engaged than employees who remain remote? 
  • Are there any trends in engagement based on team or business unit?

Chad Brinkle, Owner and Founder of High Country Offroad, regularly surveyed employees as part of his company’s RTO plan:

“To measure the success of our return-to-work plan, we regularly surveyed our team to get feedback on their experiences and identify areas for improvement. We also monitored productivity levels and team collaboration to ensure that our new policies were not negatively impacting our business outcomes.”

4. Absenteeism 

Employees who are not satisfied with your company’s return to the office might be more likely to take unplanned absences from the workplace. Without proper intervention, this could quickly lead to turnover and a massive loss of productivity. Pay attention to absenteeism trends following your return to work plan. 

Example of return to work policy with a free template

A comprehensive return to work policy will help ensure employees understand what's expected of them as your business transitions back to the office. Every company’s reopening plan will look different but below are several areas to consider for a successful return. 

1. Workplace safety measures

Employee safety should be a top priority. Outline the health and safety measures your organization is taking to protect employees, including requirements around personal protective equipment, social distancing practices, and vaccination status. Keep in mind that some local laws may prohibit mandatory vaccination policies. Include the steps employees are expected to take if they tested positive for COVID-19. 

2. Remote work guidelines

Giving employees as much clarity as possible about your remote work policy will help prevent confusion and dissatisfaction. Include guidelines around the number of days a week employees may work from home and expectations around in-office work, along with any details about flexible work schedules or assigned seating. You may also want to consider a phased approach to ease your workforce back. This is where you might want to share the “why” behind your policy and discuss the advantages of reopening offices. 

3. Employee benefits 

Returning to the office means your workforce will have new needs surrounding commuting, childcare, pet care, and more. Providing flexible benefits that help employees cover these expenses is one way to encourage employees to come into the office and support their mental health. ResumeBuilder.com revealed that 88% of employers are creating incentives to get employees to return to the office, including catered meals, commuter accounts, and higher pay. 

A lifestyle spending account is the best option if you want to give employees the most flexibility possible. With this type of post-tax account, you can design a customized program around a set of eligible spending categories. This allows employees to purchase anything within those categories that simplifies their return to the office. 

If you’re considering offering new benefits as part of your RTO plan, it’s smart to benchmark your offerings against companies of your size and industry. Download the Benepass Benefits Benchmarking Guide to explore current trends in employee perks and stipends.

2023 Benepass Benefits Benchmarking Guide

4. Communication methods

Show employees that you care about their feedback by sharing where they can go if they have questions or want to raise concerns as they return to the office. 

Jessica Bane, Director of Business at GoPromotional, explains why it’s important to communicate openly with employees: 

“Open communication would be essential to foster a culture where employees feel comfortable expressing their concerns and opinions. Regular team meetings, town halls, or anonymous feedback mechanisms could help to achieve this.”

To help you get started, we put together the following free template that you can copy and modify. 

Return to work policy:

This document contains terms and conditions for [Company Name]’s return to work policy. Please sign the form and return it to the head of your department to acknowledge you read through the document and understood its contents. 

Employee health and safety 

We will take every precaution to ensure safety as employees return to the office. This includes maintaining a thorough cleaning schedule and ensuring that protocol is followed if an employee reports a positive COVID-19 test. 

If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, they should report it to their manager immediately and begin a period of isolation before returning to work. In accordance with current CDC guidelines:

  • Employees should return to the office after five days if they had no symptoms or if they are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication.
  • Employees who had symptoms and moderate illness (shortness of breath or difficulty breathing) should return after isolating for 10 days. 
  • Employees who had severe illness (they were hospitalized) or have a weakened immune system should isolate through day 10 and consult their doctor before ending isolation and returning to the office.

We will not currently require employees to wear masks in the office but ask that employees respect their colleagues’ choices regarding mask use. We reserve the right to revisit this policy in the future. 

Remote work

We are returning to the office to provide more opportunities for connection and collaboration. That said, we understand that employees also enjoy the flexibility of remote work and want to create a work environment that provides the advantages of both in-person and remote work. 

Employees will be expected to be in the office [X] days per week. Employees should consult with their managers to determine which days of the week they will be in the office. If employees have any safety concerns or special accommodation requests concerning physically returning to the office, they should communicate them to their manager. 

While working remotely, employees must continue to adhere to all business policies outlined in the employee handbook regarding conduct, confidentiality, sick leave and PTO, etc. Employees are to be accessible online for 8 hours during the days they work remotely and communicate in a timely manner with their manager, colleagues, and clients. 

Benefits

We are providing a number of additional employee benefits to make the transition back to the office easier. It’s our hope that these benefits will support your return and alleviate some of the concerns we have heard about returning to the office. 

Commuter stipend: We are providing [dollar amount] per [month/quarter/etc.] to use on daily commuting expenses such as public transportation or parking.

Child and dependent care stipend: We are providing [dollar amount] per [month/quarter/etc.] to use on dependent care expenses such as child or adult daycare, summer day camps, and before- or after-school care. 

Lifestyle spending account: We are providing [dollar amount] per [month/quarter/etc.] to use on a variety of expenses within several pillars, including wellness, mental health, fitness, pet care, house services, personal enrichment, and more. 

Employees will receive separate resources with more information about these benefits and instructions on how to access them. 

Communication

We want to keep the lines of communication open to ensure a smooth return to the office. Along with raising any concerns to their managers, employees should feel free to contact [X] at [email address/phone number] with any questions or feedback. We will also reserve time during our monthly town hall meetings for our leadership team to answer questions about our return to the office. We will give employees the opportunity to share anonymous feedback through regular employee surveys. 

Authorization

I have read, understand, and accept the terms and conditions described in this document. I agree to abide by the expectations and responsibilities discussed within.

Name: _____________________

Signature:  _____________________

Upgrade your return to work plan with Benepass

Benepass helps employers create flexible benefits programs that incentivize employees to return to the office and provide support for many costs associated with hybrid and in-office work. 

Our flexible benefits accounts give your employees more freedom to tailor their benefits to their individual needs and lifestyles. Benepass can help you craft programs that tackle your company’s unique challenges as you return to the office in 2023. 

Learn more about our approach by booking a demo or contacting our sales team at sales@getbenepass.com

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Annalisa Rodriguez

Content Marketing Manager

Annalisa is the Content Marketing Manager at Benepass. She has 9+ years of experience in writing, editing, and content strategy.

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