Be prepared: planning for a return to the workplace

Image: Shutterstock
Jun 11 2020 by Joanna Strahan Print This Article

As many businesses start re-opening and putting in place plans to get everyone back into the workplace, we need to consider whether we and our teams are fully prepared. Reopening as though nothing happened isn’t going to help anyone - neither your customers, nor your staff.

So how to do ensure you’re prepared and ready to re-open the business?

A good place to start is by asking yourself three questions:

  1. Are your people fearful and anxious about returning to work?
  2. Have you implemented the lessons learnt and developed a clear transition plan?
  3. Are your people ready & motivated to follow the new path?

Let’s explore each question in turn.

Are your people fearful and anxious about returning to work?

Covid-19 has tested and threatened our basic human needs, from our health to food shortages to being apart from those we love. As we transition out of the pandemic, people are left with the dilemma of balancing their safety with their security of employment.

The best way to engage with your team and help allay their fears is to talk to them. In advance of your teams returning to work consider arranging a Back to Work conference call. This should be led by a member of your leadership team and should have clear and concise messages about what happens next and when. You can use Zoom or other similar platforms to create an anonymous Q&A chat during the conference, where the presenter can address anyone’s immediate concerns.

Effective communication can be critical when engaging with your staff, especially during times of change and often the most important form of communication is listening and being able to respond clearly and definitively to the majority of questions, and action any takeaways.

People will need time and space to reflect on what you have told them, so follow up the conference call with a one-to-one call with their line managers, ideally two days later. The managers will need to have a more in depth understanding of the company’s back to work plan and be given parameters as to what adjustments, if any, they can make. The last thing you want is for the person to come away from this call with more unanswered questions.

From conversations with our clients, we’ve noticed that people have ended up working longer hours through fear, uncertainty or even boredom. Restore work-life balance on their return to work. Remember, the goal is to work smarter not harder!

It is critical that you recognise this, find ways to restore it, and review your processes. A ‘lessons learnt’ workshop is a great way to do this. You will probably find that actually not everything during the Covid19 pandemic has been negative. Make sure you create an environment where people feel they can share their experiences and opinions, listen to what worked well during this time, and identify changes that were efficient and allowed simplicity to flourish. Ask your people what they want to see continue in their working life and what they would like to see less of.

Do your managers and team leaders have the skills needed to develop good employer relationships and can they use their emotional intelligence to best manage what can be an emotional time for your people? With a lot of team leaders or managers having little to no formal management training, they may find it hard to ask for help in these areas or they may not even recognise they need support. A great way of overcoming this is to give them access to eLearning platforms that help them develop their skills in their own time and space.

Have you implemented the lessons learnt and developed a clear transition plan?

Your people will be very proficient at their role in a ‘business as usual’ environment, and whilst we can see the light at the end of the tunnel for the Covid-19 pandemic, the return to work is going to be anything but business as normal for some time to come. So changes will need to be made and that may mean a drop in productivity, the need for some additional training, and the ability to deal with the frustrations that changes inevitably bring.

Planning is therefore the key to managing the back to work transition. Your plan must include and embed the lessons learnt and then cover the 5 W’s:

Why: Why are the changes needed? As teams come back together, they will start to discover that everyone’s experience of Covid-19 was different, and this may affect their behaviours and approach to adjusting to the new norm. Therefore, it is very important that you create an environment where people are respectful of other’s positions. Set the ground rules clearly and explain why these are needed - this will help the team reconnect.

Who: Who is doing the work? Ever heard of the analogy of “you’re playing in my sand pit”? People can get precious about their job role or the part they play in a team, and when someone else gets involved it can create child-like emotions of not wanting to share.

During Covid-19, with people furloughed and teams stretched, it is inevitable that people will have been asked to pitch in and do things that were not usually part of their normal day-to-day role. Effective delegation is needed to reallocate or reassign the workload, whilst being mindful of individual’s emotional responses. Setting clear roles and responsibilities will help your team settle into the new norm.

Where: Where will the work be carried out? Working in the construction industry has meant that I have been asked to visit sites to carry out Covid-19 assessments, and for every request I get I have first to ask myself whether this could be done remotely. If not, I start to visualise where I am going, how I am going to get there and who will be there.

I find this helps me plan what I will need for the day and ensure that I, and the people I come into contact with, can all stay safe and adhere to the current social distancing rules. As an employer, you can help your team by giving them clear guidance and information about where people will be working and how they can get there – this will help to alleviate some of their anxiety.

When: When will this happen? There is still uncertainty about when we will fully return to normal, and whilst the situation remains fluid it is important to give your teams ample notice of when these return to work measures will be in place. This will allow them to make the necessary arrangements in their home life and also mentally adjust to the change.

What What is the new work or role? Prior to Covid-19 everyone knew their job role and the tasks that they needed to complete. If you have conducted a ‘lessons learnt’ review, you may find that you have updated some of your processes. These changes will affect the people returning to work, and the people who took on additional tasks during the lockdown. Make sure that your back to work plan clearly communicates these changes and embraces them.

As an employer or manager, it makes sense to treat the return to work as a project in its own right. Treat it just as you would any other project, which means managing the change and planning for the transition are key. You need a well-defined and concise plan that is clearly communicated to your team, and managed with an understanding that these are unusual times and we don’t have all the answers.

By letting your team know that you have a plan in place and that are you are working with them, taking their challenges into account, you can ensure a smooth transition and a united team.

Are your people ready & motivated to follow the new path?

Ensuring your staff embody the behaviours you want to see and focus their efforts on achieving the team’s goals, is a key part of team development. So make sure your team has taken part in the ‘lessons learnt’ exercise and demonstrate through your actions, not just your words, that their concerns and their ideas have been listened to.

High performing teams need to work well together and be motivated, and during lockdown this team spirit may have been tested as the teams were necessarily fragmented. As your team comes back together, consider a team building exercise. This can be as simple as a fun ice breaker or maybe even a quiz.

It sounds a bit chicken and egg, but we know that teams with the best players win. And when companies win, their people grow and thrive. Investing in your people and helping them development their knowledge and skills will motivate them to achieve success, giving you the return on investment you’re looking for.


About The Author

Joanna Strahan
Joanna Strahan

Joanna Strahan is founder of UK-based C2C Training Group, which offers quality assessment and competency-based courses in Health and Safety, leadership, business skills and personal development for clients in the construction industry.