After two months of working from home, many companies are beginning to plan for employees’ return back to work. Notice we didn’t say “returning to normal operations,” because that may be a different concept altogether. Here is some advice for management as you get ready to reassemble your team.
We learned during this crisis how important empathy is and how connected we all are. Don’t forget those lessons as you plan to re-open. How you treat people now is going to impact morale for a long time, and by extension, your ability to recruit and retain talent.
Your staff will be concerned with the safety of your physical facility. Be transparent about the steps you’re taking to sanitize the space and the equipment. Talk about what steps you’ll be taking to maintain safe conditions. Require temperature checks before entering the office, for instance. You might be reconfiguring your offices and public spaces and changing policies about the use of break rooms and having meetings. Outline these changes in plain language. Send them to staff ahead of their return. Give them time to absorb or raise questions and concerns.
Your IT department will probably have to do a scan of equipment and systems since the coronavirus isn’t the only bug people may be bringing back with them. Staff may have downloaded games, software, and other digital addons you weren’t aware of. Digital hygiene and security should be a top priority for your IT staff over the first few days of reconnecting. Now’s a good time to publish a refresher of your IT security policies for everyone to review.
If you’ve provided protective equipment and have policies about hand washing or sanitizing, be prepared for differing levels of comfort and willingness to comply. You’ll have to make the call about compliance. Enforce the standards uniformly. If your staff is required to share space again, you’ll have to reassure those who are most concerned that they can trust you to keep them safe. This pandemic has raised existential and primal fears in many people. You’ll need to be prepared for a workplace that’s more emotionally charged and less productive while people adjust to being around each other again.
Keep in mind that some staff will have a harder time adjusting to an office where everyone is wearing a mask. If they rely on lip-reading and facial cues for comprehension, struggle with precise English pronunciation or comprehension, or have challenges reading social signals, masks may increase their stress and cause them to feel isolated. Ask your HR department to help coach coworkers on how to be patient and communicate clearly. Perhaps with more written communication and email. Companies are also producing clear masks that allow full visibility of the lower face. That might be a good investment if you have some workers who will benefit from seeing the whole face clearly.
Management experts are recommending changes in scheduling to help maintain social distancing. You might consider bringing back only staff who must be in the office, letting those who can and want to remain home do so. You might alternate days so your offices are at 50 percent capacity: half the staff is in while the other half is WFH.
You’re likely to have workers who are vulnerable or caring for family members who are. This means some staff might not go back to work in the physical office for the foreseeable future. Be sure to retain your telecommuting infrastructure. Avoid any stigma related to working from home. A second wave of the virus could throw us all back into remote work at any time. Staying flexible and planning ahead will be the keys to handling what comes next.
You’re going to set the tone for how your staff feels about coming back to work. Model the behavior you expect from them. Stay calm and carry on. And wash your hands.