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As a Founder and the CEO of Vari, my mission is to help companies create workspaces that elevate people.

As the U.S. sees vaccination rates of more than 1 million people per day (at the time of this writing) and the world begins to heal, a question has presented itself: How should businesses consider navigating the road back to the office and think about the future of work?

At the start of 2021, vacancy rates in office properties were at 18.2%. But with the number of Covid-19 cases declining "significantly," many businesses are starting to transition back into the office. Of course, doing so with employee safety in mind is the top priority.

At this point, safety measures like sanitizing spaces and distancing employees are a given. But what else can a business do to make this transition a welcoming one? Applying the lessons learned during the historic moment that was Covid-19 can help any company find its post-pandemic footing.

1. Be prepared for the unexpected.

The pandemic hit fast, and few businesses had a contingency plan for a global health crisis. When employees left their offices in March 2020, there was no way of knowing most would not even begin to return until the second half of 2021. But the biggest lesson I learned over the past 18 months is that every business needs a scalable and efficient emergency plan. This kind of plan can help avoid business interruptions and confusion for employees during a crisis.

For instance, as soon as we realized the tremendous impact that the pandemic would have, we launched our Emergency Response Committee to not only make crucial business decisions but also ensure we communicated with all of our team members. Just like training for fire drills, action plans can be put in place to prepare for future events. Taking what worked and what didn’t work into mind while creating this new emergency plan will ensure you are ready to weather any kind of unpredictable event.

2. Encourage collaboration and a healthy workspace.

When creative minds meet, there is a brilliant and almost tangible spark in the air. There is a rush when experienced problem solvers come together to brainstorm new ideas. It’s time to get back to those wonderful collaborative moments.

That being said, while working together, employees should still have a sense of privacy and space, both physically and mentally. People who have been working from home have likely benefitted from having mental health and self-care breaks when they need them. So, whether it’s a walk outside or a snack in a quiet place, encouraging those moments for all employees could help create a calmer and happier workforce. Make a point to create these spaces for solitude and opportunities for breaks.

3. Renew focus on work-life balance.

The pandemic taught us just how busy everyone’s lives are outside of the office. As cities begin to lift restrictions, many activities are returning, and vacations or weekend trips that fell victim to the pandemic are being rebooked.

Use the transition back to the office as a powerful moment to remind your team to respect the life they live both inside and outside of work. The sense of collaboration, support and creativity they may get from being in the office is an important aspect of doing good work for others.

4. Stay true to your principles while changing your physical presence.

The physical way you do business may change in light of the lessons learned during the pandemic. For employees, returning to an office that is physically unchanged or appears to have not been touched since March 2020 can feel uncomfortable or even unsafe.

Instead, ensure your employees are coming back to an office that meets recommendations established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You might find making these updates can help inspire a new sense of safety, collaboration and creativity. From my perspective, doing so is also a visible sign to all returning employees that their needs, safety and happiness are a top priority of their employer.

5. Remember: Happy employees and customers are key to getting back into the office.

Watching how employees improvised, strategized and modernized on the fly during the pandemic is a reminder of how resilient and talented they are. To ensure a smooth transition back to the office, it’s absolutely critical that both employees and customers know they are valued. Whether you're recognizing employee efforts or offering discounts to loyal customers, always remember there would be no office to return to without both groups.

I also believe continuing to encourage open lines of communication and a willingness to explore new ways of working is the best "welcome back" present a company can give their employees and customers.

The Takeaway

One of the best lessons that we can all learn from the pandemic is a renewed commitment to resiliency. When a business and its employees are tested by a worldwide crisis, they collectively learn their strengths and the areas in which they can improve. We must all be sure to apply those lessons and come out of the other side of this pandemic stronger. It’s through these difficult situations that we find what matters most in our business and in life.

When times are tough during something as unprecedented as a global pandemic, it reminds all of us of the empathy, love and grace that we should treat ourselves, our coworkers and our customers with each day. Reminding ourselves of that and prioritizing it in all of our interactions has made us stronger through the adversity we faced during the pandemic.

Read the original Forbes article