At some point in the hopefully not too distant future, employees will start returning to work in the physical workplace instead of working remotely from their homes. Just as the transition from the workplace to home represented a significant shift, returning to the workplace won’t be without its challenges.
Here’s how to set your employees up for successful re-entry.
Help employees mentally prepare to return to work.
Give employees some time to prepare to return to the workplace. After all, the pandemic already showed that employees could be just as productive working remotely. While some employees have their work attire hanging on the back of the door, lunch planned, and keys in hand, others may face the prospect with dread. Empowering your employees to choose their timing shows you care about their mental health, safety, and wellbeing.
What do you need to ensure a safe work environment? Will you need extra COVID-19 protocols such as partitions, extra space, hand sanitizer, or hand-washing stations? Communicate your preparations with your workforce before they return, and have everything in place. Take your time creating your new “normal;” employees trust you to protect their well-being.
Welcome your team back.
Some of your employees haven’t seen their colleagues in over a year. Give them time to catch up on the news and re-connect—lots of life events can happen in a year.
Plan “welcome back” events to start rebuilding in-person connections. For example:
- Have a competition for the funniest Zoom-bomb or fail.
- Invite people to bring in photos of their work-from-home pet companions.
- Set up multiple beverage or snack stations to allow people to catch up safely.
Sharing experiences, whether happy, sad, hilarious, or tragic can help employees start to build rapport again. It’s important that you give them the time and space to feel comfortable doing so.
Ask your people if there is any training you need to revisit, too.
Are there learning opportunities they missed? Have new technologies come out and made them uncertain in their roles? Have they identified new skills they would like to master or discovered they needed to learn? Alternatively, did they develop more efficient ways to accomplish tasks?
Your employees had to be creative problem-solvers to get the work done at home, so tap into that brilliance.
Rethink your travel, conferences, and meetings.
For the past year, people stayed home limiting interactions and maintaining social distance. They did their parts to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
As employees transition back to the office, carefully evaluate what’s really necessary for meetings, corporate events, and travel. Does the issue need a meeting at all, or could it be settled with a quick conference call or email? Can you continue to use remote meeting technology and avoid unnecessary travel?
Not only are many people are wary of crowds right now but returning to work could be a shock to the immune system. Ask your team if they are comfortable with in-person gatherings. Be sensitive to team members’ safety concerns and carefully consider before you begin having events or sending team members to them.
You might need to get creative—are there ways to have events outdoors with more social distancing?
Acknowledge the warriors.
Very few people experienced “business as usual” over the past year, and every team member faced unique challenges to continue to work in unprecedented times.
Acknowledge the warriors who continued to come into the workplace daily, perhaps picking up extra tasks to keep things running smoothly. Others worked from home at the kitchen table, surrounded by their partner, pets, kids, elderly parents or unreliable internet service—recognize their efforts.
Thank the employees who sent emails in the middle of the night, or at the crack of dawn to ensure that things kept running smoothly. Acknowledge the team members who were personally affected by COVID-19.
Every person in your organization kept it running during extraordinary circumstances. Be grateful.
Support your team
It’s going to take some time for employees to build a new routine after they have been isolating at home either in isolation or with children, elderly parents, pets, and others in their care. Morning routines need to be re-learned, and now is not the time to worry about PTO or late arrivals. Employees may still be juggling remote learning for their children with elder-care, anxiety, or other challenges.
Whatever supports you can make available to them will help.
A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published in August 2020, found that 40% of U.S. adults reported struggles with mental health issues since COVID-19. Support your team’s transition with:
- Mental health and/or counseling supports
- A combination of remote and in-person work
- Employee assistance programs
- Flextime where possible
During a global pandemic, your team of employees stepped up and supported your business. It’s time to return the favor. Empathy, patience, gratitude, and flexibility are the best way forward.