Companies are beginning to think about returning employees to the workplace. This isn’t going to be as easy as planning a return-to-work celebration. Many aspects of work life and home life have been altered, some elements being more permanent changes than others. Where should you start and what should you consider?
As with any change plan, there are a few key points that should be kept top of mind while planning for how the return might be structured:
- Always key to any change initiative – COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE. Inform employees not only about the changes they should expect, but also reinforce those situations and procedures that will stay the same.
- Acknowledge the potential for anxiety or other stressors and emotions that employees, as well as their family members, may have connected to the idea of being in a space with co-workers, where they won’t have as much control over the environment as they had at home.
- Be sensitive to the differences individuals will have in the way they are processing all that has happened since early March. They may be grieving loved ones or experiencing loss as it relates to health, safety, freedom, and/or financial and job security, just to name a few.
Monster Taming Tips
With these points as a backdrop, it is easier to understand that a one-size-fits-all plan for returning employees to the office is probably not possible, nor is it practical. For example, until decisions related to child care and school schedules are determined, it may be difficult for parents to commit to a regular schedule. Another reason for integrating flexibility and patience into the planning process.
A few other critical things which you may already be considering:
- The CDC has posted a Workplace Decision Tool to guide leaders through the considerations involved with making the decision to open or not. Please reference this easy-to-follow flow chart: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/workplace-decision-tool.html.
- Actively encourage sick employees to stay home. Be frequent and consistent with this message.
- Consider what employee health screening procedures are practical for your operations.
- Develop and integrate an exposure-response plan covering things such as isolation, stay-at-home requirements, and also how communications with employees will be addressed should someone be diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.
- Provide the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Detail cleaning procedures and have sufficient supplies on hand.
- Modify the office layout to align with physical distancing recommendations.
- Modify work hours and breaks, as well as consider rotating shifts to limit the number of employees in the office at one time.
- Post guidance for customers and clients including no handshake greetings, appointments in advance, etc.
- Follow CDC and government travel suggestions, limiting travel to that which is essential for business.
We’ve all learned a lot about working from home and, perhaps for some positions, that option remains viable. Be sure to think about the continued support distance workers need to re-engage with their co-workers and to stay connected, if this option is to continue.
- Be ready to discuss the rationale for those positions that must work from the office, and those that have the option of office or home.
- Ask employees to share what worked, and what didn’t work from their experiences of working from home. Use this information to strengthen the protocols going forward.
- Encourage employees who are connecting to meetings virtually to utilize their cameras to increase the level of engagement, commitment, and accountability.
- Ensure teleworkers have the technology support they need to be effective working from home, such as implementing collaborative tools, like Basecamp, to seamlessly shift work tasks between team members.
- Communicate specific, ergonomic and safety conditions and standards that permanent work-from-home offices must comply with to meet requirements of Workers’ Compensation Insurance terms.
It’s all about respect
We all have had some similar challenges during this shelter-at-home phase, and at the same time, very difficult challenges and circumstances. Ensure leaders are ready and prepared to watch for and assist others if they demonstrate behaviors indicating they are struggling with the transition back to the office, or the juggling of work and home life. We can’t just flip a switch and think everything will fall into place. This is another part of the journey, and it will take time and patience.
Just as with any type of personal or professional change, individuals will travel at different paces, requiring different levels of connection, communication, and empathy. Returning processes should be designed to allow for as much flexibility as is reasonable for the organization.
Help returning employees realize that they have been successful dealing with COVID-19 so far, and that they will continue to be successful in managing the changes that are still yet to be determined. Celebrate the little wins, as well as the big ones, and provide as much hope and support for the future as is reasonable without promising something that you can’t control.
What’s your “monster” challenge? Send your brief description to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your monster is selected, we’ll send you a fun coloring book to help you relieve the stress this bad guy has caused you.