Mask

The coronavirus pandemic has forced huge swaths of the American workforce into furlough or remote work arrangements. Now, as lockdown restrictions slowly and unevenly begin to lift, employers are starting to think about how to bring employees back into the office.

The return to normal is likely to be a long path with plenty of ups and downs. To makes things as easy as possible, company leaders should take the time now to carefully craft their reboarding plans. Here are a few key factors to consider:

Health, Safety, and Social Distancing

Right now, the top priority for any company leader should be keeping staff and customers safe. After being furloughed or working from home for many months, your employees are likely to be wary about returning to enclosed public spaces. Abate their fears by clearly explaining all the safety measures you have in place.

Measures to consider include:

  1. Personal protective equipment (PPE): Should your employees wear masks, goggles, visors, gloves, and/or aprons?
  2. Protective screens: Depending on the environment, screens could be erected between desks or counters to help protect people.
  3. Social distancing: Markings should be placed as appropriate to help people maintain 6 feet of distance between one another.
  4. Temperature checks: Regularly checking staff or customer temperatures is an effective way of detecting possible cases of coronavirus. However, you must be aware of relevant local regulations that may apply to this practice.
  5. Hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations: All workplaces should provide more hand-washing stations and/or plenty of hand sanitizer for employee use, especially near high-traffic surfaces (e.g., door handles) and communal items (e.g., printers).
  6. Increased cleaning: It’s important for all surfaces to be regularly wiped down throughout the day. Weekly cleanings are no longer enough.

Evaluate the feasibility of these measures and the needs of your workplace. When and where are staff and/or customers likely to come in close contact. What can be done to limit this?

Flexibility

Some workplaces have always operated from a central office, rarely if ever allowing staff members to work from home. However, the recent lockdown has helped prove that employees can be just as productive when working remotely, and many employees have now come to prefer remote work to working in the office.

If your workplace has not traditionally offered employees much flexibility, you may need to change that going forward. You don’t necessarily need to allow employees to work remotely full-time, but letting them work from home even one or two days a week can be a huge morale booster. Supporting employee well-being through flexibility and understanding can go a long way toward keeping engagement and productivity high in the difficult times ahead.

Identify the Pandemic-Driven Changes You’ll Keep as the Office Reopens

Flexibility may not be the only pandemic response that should be carried over into the post-pandemic world.

For example, many companies made heavy use of communication and collaboration software to keep employees connected throughout the lockdowns. Now, many employees have integrated these solutions into their workflows. Instead of asking employees to upend their routines once again, consider whether keeping these software solutions would be beneficial to the company. Your organization could stand to gain a lot, from more communication to improved efficiency on collaborative projects.

You may also want to reappraise your core business operations. Are lengthy team meetings always necessary, or did the pandemic show you that productive conversations could be had in less formal, less time-consuming ways? In the case of the retail and food industries, it might be safer to continue offering free or discounted delivery service than it is to open up shop again.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Good communication has always been integral to running a successful company, but it’s even more vital than ever in the current climate. The transition back to the office won’t be 100 percent smooth, no matter what you do. Your staff members are likely to have questions every day concerning not only their safety but also various other business operations.

To help employees safely reboard, keep them well informed about everything going on. In particular, you want to communicate about key topics like coronavirus safety guidelines and new company requirements, changes or delays to your supply chain, new policies regarding flexibility and other changes, and the overall state of the business itself. Hold regular meetings, send out email updates, and encourage consistent peer-to-peer communication. Not only will employees appreciate the information, but they’ll also feel valued because you’ve chosen to keep them in the loop.

Measure Your Plan’s Effectiveness

Whatever initiatives you decide to implement as part of your reboarding plan, you’ll need to track their outcomes to ensure your strategy is actually working. To fully understand the efficiency of your post-lockdown workplace, you need measure everything from safety and communication to productivity and customer experience.

For clearer insight into your reboarding plan’s performance, compare your metrics to pre-pandemic data, if available. Even if you don’t have such data, tracking post-pandemic metrics can still help you identify what’s working and find new ways to support staff.

The particular metrics you track will depend on the specific contours of your reboarding plan and business, but some generally important ones include:

  1. PPE use: Keeping a log of how many items you have at the start of the day, how many should be left at the end of the day, and how many are actually left can help ensure staff members are using PPE sufficiently to keep themselves and others safe.
  2. Flexibility: If you are able to offer more flexibility to staff, monitor how it’s playing out. Track things like work patterns, productivity, and other factors that can tell you who’s using the flexibility and how it’s affecting their performance.
  3. Communication: What channels are employees using most? What kinds of messages are being engaged with, and to what extent? Are staff reading and reacting to emails and returning forms quickly?

Businesses can only expect to thrive in this trying environment if they have a motivated staff and a willingness to adapt. As long as organizational leaders are willing to invest time and resources into properly assessing their situations and making the necessary adjustments, they’ll be able to safely and successfully reboard their employees and rebuild strong work environments.

Steven Cox is chief evangelist at FMP Global.

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