Editorial: 07.07.2020

5 Essential Lessons for Returning to the Office

— Robert Graham, National Safety Director, McCarthy Building Companies, Inc.

Five ways to build trust with your teams and ensure a safe and healthy return to the workplace.

construction worker spraying sanitizer

At just about every business around the globe, leaders and employees are wondering how to safely return and function in their traditional workspaces. As an essential business that has safely and successfully operated throughout the pandemic, McCarthy has identified five key behaviors and philosophies that have allowed us — and can allow you — to safely operate offices, commercial establishments and other physical gathering places. 


Continuous, transparent communication builds the trust and confidence required to bring people back into close physical proximity. Be honest about what you know and share your plans and the thought processes behind them openly. Don’t be afraid to feel like you’re overcommunicating — it’s better to share more than what’s needed instead of too little, especially when it has to do with health and safety. At McCarthy, we begin every meeting with a Genuine Safety Moment. The concept is simple: one person from the meeting discusses something that reinforces why safety is the most important thing we do every day. In this case, it’s a quick and simple opportunity to talk openly about how to stay healthy and keep others healthy during the pandemic.

Make It Easy

Do the work upfront to make your workspaces as safe and as hassle-free as possible. The last thing you want is to make returning to an office or workspace feel like a chore, or worse — unsafe. Employees and visitors should understand clearly what to expect and have confidence in the plan. 

Start by designating walking paths in high-traffic areas, limiting the number of people in gathering spaces or conference rooms, providing PPE and training on its usage, and making cleaning and sanitizing products widely available. Create large, simple and clear signage to remind everyone of the new protocols throughout the office or workspace, including expectations for social distancing or face coverings. Before asking anyone to return, offer online presentations or virtual walkthroughs to set expectations and answer questions. Address concerns directly. Establishing a level of confidence in what to expect will set the foundation for a smooth return.

Embrace Technology

During the past few months, your teams have almost certainly started embracing new tools and ways of working virtually. In many cases, teams are even more connected than they were before the pandemic. From video conferencing to real-time document sharing and other online collaboration tools, continue to tap into these best practices as you transition back to the workplace. Even when in the office, your teams will be using many of the same tools to communicate and collaborate with those in the building and others who may still be working off-site. Encourage everyone to put their preconceived notions aside and be open to new ideas and ways of working. 

Lead by Example

Model the behavior you expect from your team. Barring health or other personal concerns, ask executive leaders if they will be part of the first group of employees to return. Seeing company leaders embrace new safety protocols, such as social distancing, cleaning and sanitation or face coverings, demonstrates confidence in the new processes and builds advocacy and trust across your organization. Check in with those who have returned, ensure they still feel comfortable, and ask for feedback about how to make workspaces safer and improve the return process. 

Be Flexible and Patient

Everyone feels differently about returning to their old workspace and will need time to adjust. Things will be different. Some may not feel comfortable returning for any number of reasons. If your business allows, give people the freedom to come back at their own pace. Data shows that most people are eager to return to the office. Many people are understandably nervous — let them dip their toes in the water for a single day or afternoon and return gradually. A no-pressure environment helps each person feel comfortable with the decision to return and shows you are committed to the health and safety of your teams. 

There’s no magic solution that can make returning to workspaces simple or guarantee safety. It has to be an all-in approach. Our employees understand that we are better when we are together, but it may take time to get there. At McCarthy, we’ve been overcoming unique safety challenges for more than 150 years. The ability to successfully navigate safety challenges is in our DNA. If you follow the lessons above and make safety a core part of your culture, it can be part of yours too.


About the Author

As National Safety Director, Rob Graham is responsible for the ongoing development and implementation of McCarthy’s National Safety Program. Rob works with McCarthy’s operations group across all regions with program compliance, safety training, project inspections/reporting, accident investigations, and claim management. With more than 21 years of experience in the industry, he began with McCarthy as a Safety Coordinator and was the Southern California Region’s Safety Director prior to his current role. Rob holds a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Health – Safety from Illinois State University.

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