back to work

The Ultimate Guide to Transitioning Back to the Office

Jen Dewar
By Jen Dewar
July 5, 2021
Employee Onboarding
Remote work is a term for companies that embrace flexibility and allow workers to work from home some or all of the time.

For many companies the implementation of remote work policies over the last few months has largely been an experiment. Covid-19 came quick and fast, impacting our daily routines; and left many companies with no option but to reevaluate their current work environment. It forced employers to rethink how employees work.

As the summer is drawing to a close we are now starting to see some companies preparing to return to their office space, either partially or completely. What we have seen is that remote work is not for everyone. Whether it's distractions in the home or lack of regular face-to-face interactions, some employees cannot wait to return to their office space and meet their colleagues once again. That’s why we put together this guide to help People Leaders embrace this transition with ease.

Sapling’s Ultimate Guide to Transitioning back to the office will Cover:

the WAVE of Remote work

Before the concern over Covid-19, there was already an upward trend in the number of people remotely working in the U.S.

Between 2005 and 2017, there was a 159% increase in the number of people working remotely in the United States. From an estimated 1.8 million workers in 2005 to over 3.9 million in 2017.

Naturally, remote work is most prevalent among cloud-based online businesses. This presents a bit more of a challenge for roles that require manual labor or in-person presence like hospitality.


the challenges of

While we’re in a temporary period of increased remote work, there are ongoing challenges for individuals who are not familiar with working full time remote for such an extended period of time.

1 Lack of a QUIET SPACE

Many individuals simply don’t have a spare room or office space in their home where they can work from 40+ hours a week. Living with young kids, roommates or elderly parents makes it challenging to be completely focused on work as interruptions are bound to occur. Having noise cancelling headphones and planning meetings at set times that suit the employee’s schedule can help with this.

2 Remote Work REDUCES Productivity

Some individuals crave regular interaction with their coworkers. Whether it's twisting around their office chair to share a new idea or sitting in a meeting room together to brainstorm, the experience is simply not the same through screens. This lack of physical interaction can reduce some employees productivity levels as they may feel somewhat neglected. Regular interactions through tools like slack and zoom can help reduce this issue.


For some employees having access to high speed internet, comfortable work stations, coffee machines and free snacks are big perks of being in the physical office. Employee’s not returning to their offices long term will need to ensure they have an ergonomic work setup at home and access to high speed internet to attend virtual meetings without glitches.

4 eXPECTATIONS of Managers

One of the biggest challenges employees face when working remotely is that their managers don’t effectively set, communicate, and manage expectations. Some employees feel they have to be available 24/7 when working remote. So when offered the chance to return to the office setting, some individuals are excited at the opportunity to return to their usual 9-5 hustle and know that when they leave the office their work is complete until the following day.

5 Access to Top Talent

When a business allows for telecommuting and remote work, it expands its talent pool and reduces geographic barriers to recruiting and hiring the best workers.

What’s important for businesses that are considering remote work, regardless of external situations, is that they first understand the hurdles so they can overcome them and implement the changes more smoothly and effectively.



One of the best ways to start is by gathering specific feedback to determine the comfort level of your staff in returning back to the office setting. You could run an internal survey to gain an understanding of where issues might arise.

You could let a few employees return to the office for a week and see what happens during this time. Where are the bottlenecks occurring, and what can you do to alleviate them?

You can use this test run to help ensure your office space is safely set up to minimize unnecessary interactions such as overcrowding by photocopiers and coffee machines, having hand sanitizers in regular locations and using directional arrows to highlight new one way flows.


Consider having one-on-ones between managers and employees prior to returning to ensure everyone is comfortable with this return and to address any individual concerns.


Communicate effectively with your staff about this transition back to the office. Develop a clear policy that outlines new changes since your team was last in the same space together. Be clear about new walking directions, the need to sanitize on entering and leaving the office, wiping down high touch areas and the importance of not being too close to any other coworker for any reason.


There are many affordable solutions for adding plexiglass partitions, directional arrows and regular hand sanitizing stations throughout your workspace. While these expenses were likely not part of your FY2020 budget, they should take precedence over discretionary expenses to prove to your employees that you are taking this virus and their health seriously.


As your staff transition back to the office setting it is important that you reevaluate how you measure the success of your employees. Goals set pre-pandemic for individuals, teams and the overall company, likely need to be re-explored and reset. Adopting a solutions mindset that focuses fully on what gets done and the results (vs. a more micromanagement approach) helps drive momentum towards your most important shared company goals.


If you’re making it compulsory for all staff to return to your office setting, you have to keep in mind the impact this will have on your employees who may be immunocompromised and so at a much higher risk of infection. Forcing a full return may simply not bode will with employees who have been enjoying the remote working lifestyle and want to continue. By making the return compulsory for all staff you may risk losing talented employees who wish to keep more flexible working terms. Consider an optional return to office policy to cater for all employees.


Company culture will be challenging to maintain with employees together, but six feet apart. It’s important to you to keep employees engaged and connected in a way that’s in-line with your overall corporate culture, mission, and values. Be creative in how you develop this.

Perhaps a sales gong that one selected employee hits when a new goal is reached. This will allow everyone to cheer from their desks without coming into closer contact with one another. Instead of having ‘Pizza Fridays’ in the kitchen with mass line ups how about ordering individual pizzas for employees to eat where they feel most comfortable.

Maybe you normally have a company-wide in-person bonding activity once a quarter or once a year. Think about how you can still do this safely. Perhaps a socially distant BBQ or hosting a table quiz might work. These activities are very important to continue because they’re creating relationships between employees.

7 Rolling Out a Test

One of the best ways to start gathering specific feedback and also gain an understanding of where issues might arise is by starting very small.

Let a few employees work remotely for a week and see what happens during this time. Where are the bottlenecks occurring, and what can you do to alleviate them?

You can start to see more clearly how processes may need to shift, as well as expectations.

You can use this test run to help build your remote work policies.

8 What to Include In Your
Remote Work Policy

The following are things to make sure you address, as you create remote work policies:
  • How will remote workers track their results? What will progress look like, and how will it be measured?
  • How will employees stay accountable?
  • When will meeting times be, and what tools will be used for communication?
  • What are work hours going to be? Do you need to take different time zones into consideration?
  • How will employees stay connected with one another?
These policies might not be universal across the organization—you may need to tailor different policies for different teams and employees, depending on their role.

9 Legal Considerations

If you’re shifting to remote work policies, you have to keep in mind legal requirements and labor laws.
Things to keep in mind include:
  • You may need to update employees’ contracts, if applicable, to reflect changes in the work environment or scope of work.
  • Be aware of local regulations regarding labor laws because when you shift to a different way of working you may be noncompliant without realizing it.
  • What are work hours going to be? Do you need to take different time zones into consideration?


Implementing Remote Work

Beyond defining expectations and creating solid policies, the most important thing any business can do to implement remote work is to have the right tools and technologies in place.

There are many cloud-based options that can be used for communication, project management and data analytics.

If you’re managing remote employees, you need to think about things a little differently, and your managers need to be prepared for this. The following are tips for managing remote workers and creating smooth processes.

1 Video Chat

Use video chat as often as possible. While email and chat are important too, with video, it becomes easier to see the more nuanced elements of communication that are happening. Video chat is also a good way to keep relationships strong between managers and employees, even when they aren’t in the same physical location.

2 Regular One-on-Ones

One-on-ones between managers and employees will keep everyone feeling not only connected but also recognized. Schedule weekly one-on-ones if possible.

3 Facilitate Career Development

Ensure that managers are working to create development opportunities and a clear path toward career advancement for remote employees. Set goals for employees and work with them on how to achieve those goals. Don’t treat remote employees like freelancers or contractors.

4 Bolster Online
Communication Skills

Ensure managers have strong online communication skills. Managers should work on honing their writing skills because effective communication is one of the most important things you can have in a remote work environment.

5 Deliver Transparency

Use solutions that promote transparency. For example, HR platforms are a good way to ensure transparency so that silos don’t develop and everyone feels as if they’re working together, even though they may physically be working independently.

6 Regular Company Updates

If your employees are shifting to remote work primarily because of Covid-19, you need to understand that they are justifiably likely feeling apprehensive and maybe scared. Send them regular updates and let them know what’s going on within the organization and keep everyone in the loop on any updates.

Best Practices and tools

Company culture can be challenging to maintain with a hybrid-remote workforce, so it’s up to you to keep remote employees engaged and connected in a way that’s in-line with your overall corporate culture, mission, and values.

Remain connected with employees, and use technology for face-to-face interactions when needed.

If your employees use a chat program, it’s easier to encourage collaboration that keeps employees engaged with one another. If possible, try to make sure you regularly assign teamwork-based tasks as well.When possible, and outside of the Covid-19 situation, try to arrange some opportunities for employees to get together face-to-face as well.

For example, maybe you have a company-wide in-person meeting once a quarter or once a year. At times when that’s not possible, think about company-wide virtual meetings.

These don't have to be about work - these opportunities for fun as well - like random virtual coffee matchups, work from home pet competitions, virtual happy hours or game nights. While they may not be about work, these types of casual conversations are important because they’re creating relationships between employees.

Zapier is a great example of bringing together remote teams and strong corporate culture. According to Zapier, they build culture through the use of the right tools, transparency about company values and culture, and regular sharing of work updates so that everyone feels like things are being accomplished and they can trust their coworkers.


Security for a Remote Workforce

As cyberattacks and breaches continue to weigh on businesses around the world, the risks can be even more significant for companies with remote teams.

First, you need to include guidelines in your remote work policies as to how employees are expected to maintain security. Be as clear and definitive as possible, so there’s no room for confusion. Many employees don’t necessarily understand the scope of cybersecurity risks, particularly when they’re working outside the office.

Include security training as part of the steps you take to move toward a remote environment.

Companies are finding that the use of two-factor authentication is working well to manage potential security issues with remote workers. Two-factor authentication or 2FA requires the use of multiple levels of security before an employee can access certain documents or information.

Choose tools that allow for strong administrative controls so that employees have access only to what they need, and consider the use of applications to monitor data transfers and usage.

The Tools You Need to Transition to Remote Work

As mentioned, having the right tools is critical to transition to remote work in any capacity. Any tools you use should be user-friendly, simple to implement, and scalable. Tools to consider as you transitio n to remote teams include:

1 HR Solutions - Sapling

The most important thing you can have to facilitate a smooth transition is a solution like Sapling. Sapling is an HR platform that helps companies be strategic in their decision-making, and it automates workflows.

Sapling delivers an excellent customer experience, regardless of where employees are located.

Whether you’re onboarding a new employee or you’re keeping current employees in the loop as they transition to a remote-based role, Sapling features the necessary features to make it happen. The use of an HR platform like Sapling, lets you organize teams and access employee information quickly.

2 Communication - Zoom, Hangouts or Skype

Communication is critical for geographically dispersed teams. You’ll need connected communication tools that will ensure everyone is on the same page. Zoom, Google Hangouts and Skype provide great solutions.

3 Cloud Storage - Google Drive, Dropbox and Box

Cloud storage can be a way to offer everyone access to important documents and files, regardless of where they’re located since many files may be too large or too sensitive to send by email. When choosing a cloud storage solution, look for options that prioritize security, simplicity, and ease-of-use. Google Drive, Dropbox or Box are the preferred picks.

When choosing a file storage platform, also keep in mind synchronization. You want a solution that ensures files are automatically updated to make collaboration work well, and you want accessibility control as well so that you can keep up with who has access to what files and who can change them.

4 Password Management - Onelogin, Okta, 1Password, Lastpass

If you have a password management tool for employees, you can ensure they have access to what they need, but you’re reducing security risks. Password managers typically encrypt passwords and add more security to your overall remote work strategy.

Onelogin, Okta, 1Password or Lastpass are the preferred picks.

The Key Takeaways for
Transitioning to back to the office

It’s an important time for employers to listen to their employees’ requests and concerns. We are still living in uncertain times and so the health and safety of our staff is paramount.

As mentioned, consider a staggered return to the office. Allow those employees who really want to return to come back first. Test out your new safe working policy and make sure you have invested in the right safety equipment for your space before a full return of all staff occurs.

Beyond defining expectations and creating a safe work environment, the most important thing any business can do when returning back to the office is to ensure employee’s health and safety is at the top of their priority list.
The depth of connectivity of Sapling into OneLogin, Greenhouse, ADP and Zapier has significantly reduced administrative busywork - allowing us to focus on the more strategic parts of our role.
Hannah DiBruno, People & Culture Associate

How Sapling helped Compass onboard 1,500 hires in 12 months

By partnering with Sapling and OneLogin, Compass’ IT team saved over 15,000 fields of data entry, streamlining handoffs, driving automation and protecting employee data.

By avoiding 750 hours in lost productivity, they saved $37,500 in people costs


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