To say the events of this year have been unpredictable and volatile would be an understatement. COVID-19 has been an inescapable baptism of fire for the world. There would be a strong argument that every person on this planet has been affected by the contagion in some way or another.
Most notably perhaps, is how it has impacted our professional lives.
Apart from sleeping, the next biggest chunk of our lives is spent in the workplace, with the average person predicted to spend 13 years and 2 months working in their lifetimes.
The contagious nature of the virus has meant that some businesses were forced to shut down their offices and opt for their workers to become remote.
Remote work (sometimes referred to as telecommuting) is defined as when an employee does not have to commute to an official workspace, such as a warehouse, an office, or a store. Instead, the employee works from a location of their choosing, usually logging into virtual workspaces and completing their work through the use of the internet.
Some say that this model of work has been a long time coming, claiming that the pandemic merely acted as a catalyst to help transition from on-site to telecommuting. Although there have been reports of increased productivity and employee satisfaction, remote work is not suitable for all businesses.
Looking forward post-COVID, it seems like a hybrid model of both on-site working and remote working will be the most likely outcome. Precisely what will happen is unknown, but managing a team in the future of the working world will require leadership skills.
With hopes of a vaccine, everyone has begun planning for the future. This may have got you thinking about how you can safely transition your workers back into the office.
We have put together a list of 7 tips you should consider when moving workers back into your office. These tips will help you do so responsibly and ethically, keeping you and your staffs well-being at the forefront of your mind.
After all, what good is the success of a company without the many hands that make it possible!
Let’s get started.
1. Re-evaluate Your Company’s Goals
Embracing change pragmatically is one of the most effective things a business owner can do. Having confidence and belief in your business is vital if you wish to come out stronger after times of crisis.
On the extreme off-chance your industry has not been affected by COVID, taking stock of your company’s goals can still be a beneficial exercise.
In other words, don’t sleep on a win, for you may wake up on a loss.
For those who have been affected by this crisis, that’s okay too.
Take this time to better understand your company’s mission and don’t be afraid to re-evaluate your business goals completely.
Reach out to all members of your staff and ask the hard questions.
- What do they love about working for your company?
- What do they think could be done better within the company?
- What do they dislike about working for your company?
- What made them want to work for the business?
- What do they need to feel safe coming back into the office?
- What do they think is the most important thing about your company’s services?
In case your staff didn’t get back to you, make sure you follow-up with them to show that you really value their input.
Honestly listen to what they have to say. Record the information and go over it with a magnifying glass. Hold what you uncover in your investigations up against your personal answers to these questions. Be scrupulous.
If there are big discrepancies in this data, you need to re-evaluate your company’s goals.
Actively including your employees in the rebuilding of the company’s values will show that you value their opinions and you care about them personally. This will be a powerful tool at your disposal when you aim to transition your workers back into your office.
2. Plan, Plan & Plan
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” ― Benjamin Franklin
There is one question that has been highlighted and etched into the notepads of politicians around the world.
What can we do to prevent this from further affecting our communities?
This truly is the million-dollar question. Or, when we look at the potential economic fallout this coronavirus has inspired, the billions of dollars question.
Let’s zoom out from a macro-outlook.
As a business owner, the best thing you can do is to plan, plan & plan.
Being organized for multiple outcomes is the best preparation one can have when dealing with something as uncertain as a global pandemic.
First and foremost, your primary responsibility is the well-being of your staff and your immediate community.
Now you have collected important data from your staff, use this information to put together detailed return-to-work plans. Plans should include:
- Budgets and allowances for on-site and remote workers.
- Detailed timelines for the return-to-work process.
- Renewed hygiene practices.
- Any new services that will be provided to employees.
- Plans in the case of a virus outbreak.
- How the company plans to stay true to existing/new values.
Investing the time necessary into fleshing out these plans will fill both you and your staff with confidence. It is important not to rush this process. Doing so could be damaging to your workplace culture, which will make it harder in the future to move your workers back into the office.
Here are some more tips for how you can bring your employees back to the office without damaging the company’s culture.
3. Be Patient & Display Empathy
As an employer, you have inherited a position of power. During times of crisis, people will look for leadership. This is the perfect time to invest more time and money into making sure your workers are happy and safe. Showing genuine interest in your employees’ wellbeing will pay dividends when you are transitioning them back into the office.
If your employees feel looked after, they will be far more likely to return to work. This is particularly important to remember, given anxiety and stress levels have been rising during the pandemic.
Though the true ramifications of this pandemic won’t be fully understood for years to come, one can predict it will have lasting effects.
Being aware of your employees’ potential anxiety will be vital when it comes to managing their reentry anxiety. This should be taken very seriously. Your actions now could make the difference between a worker staying with your company or moving to another.
If an employee feels like they would be better looked after elsewhere, they will vote with their feet.
Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Do so privately and publicly, and make your actions known. If employees need to see thorough COVID testing and cleaning policies to feel comfortable enough to return to the office, plan to do so.
4. Communicate Effectively
This is the hallmark of any great leader and is the foundation of all successful relationships. Effective communication techniques or lack thereof can make and break businesses, families, and partnerships.
Being proactive and open to new mediums of communication will be the solution here.
Be ready to employ different tips for effective employee communication, remembering that each worker is different and will respond accordingly.
Some key things to remember when communicating with workers while moving them back are:
- Be clear and concise in your message.
- Give everyone the opportunity to respond and discuss ideas.
- Foster an environment that encourages active communication.
- Take input and feedback from staff seriously.
- Use tools and other mediums to enable different avenues of communication.
5. Continue to Show Support to Remote Workers
The ultimate symbol of compassion is to keep showing support to those workers who wish to stay remote. Do not provide ultimatums that will leave your employees between a rock and a hard place. Doing so will damage your company’s culture and portray the idea that you are not willing to compromise.
This is where being empathetic and the patient comes into play. Workers will not appreciate being forced into another tough decision during a year of tough decisions.
Instead, be the change you want to see in your company.
Make the office a place that workers want to return to. Help them remember all the positive aspects of working from a shared space. The ability to socialize. The ease of communication between teams. The safe space. Free coffee. Wink Wink.
The main point of this is to take your time when bringing workers back into your office.
When environments are ravaged by bush fires or floods they don’t re-bounce overnight. In some cases, they can take years to fully recover. But in nature, these environments bounce back stronger, with greater genetic diversity and a more balanced ecosystem.
In Nassim Taleb’s book, Anti-Fragile, he dives into how this could be applied to man-made environments.
He argues that the most successful businesses and individuals have a tendency to not only plow onwards through struggle and crisis but are often strengthened by them.
He likens these anti-fragile beings to the mythical beast, the Hydra, which, upon decapitation, would grow two heads from the wound where there was previously one.
Use this crisis to strengthen your bond with your workers so it was stronger than it was before.
Check-in on remote workers and ask if there is anything they need to continue being productive and comfortable in their workplace. Offer vouchers for food near them and make sure they are taking enough breaks and looking after themselves. Make it clear that when they are ready to return to the office, they will be welcomed with open arms.
There is no one true way when it comes to managing a remote team.
However, showing support to those who are still working remotely will place you in better stead when you need them to return.
6. Take Advantage of New Technology
One recurring theme that may have come up during your questions with staff and re-evaluation of company values is that you need to update the way you use technology.
Businesses are using technology to safely reopen to their workforce amidst this pandemic.
Crisis often births innovation, and coronavirus is certainly no exception to the rule. In under a year, we have banded together and discovered a (possible) vaccine. These sorts of developments commonly take years, sometimes decades.
Closer to home, developers have been working day and night on solutions that could enhance this new working world we’ve found ourselves in.
Be sure to take advantage of these developments. This year, we have seen the widespread adoption of screen sharing technologies which have proven extremely useful.
Investing in productivity apps for remote workers will not only help your workers remain engaged but will be another sign of alliance. Remote workers who see you are prepared to invest in them will be far more likely to consider your pitch to return to the office.
Advancements in employee scheduling software will also help you track who has been where in the event of further outbreaks.
Apps with a wide array of functions could also be of use to yourself and your staff; from mindfulness and meditation to ones that gamify hygiene, communication, and social distancing.
Taking advantage of new technology to help curve the spread of COVID and mitigate its negative effects on your company will be the pragmatic approach employees like to see.
7. Have Clear Cleaning Policies
Last but not least, implementing clear cleaning policies and modifying the work environment will be crucial when moving workers back into your office.
Making the workplace safer and more comfortable for your workers will be one of the most effective things you can do when moving back to on-site working.
Hiring cleaners who regularly clean the workplace is a good idea. But hiring cleaners who also teach staff efficient cleaning practices is an even better one. Taking these precautions will indicate to your staff that you care about their safety, which will help workers feel safer when moving back into the office.
Other things to consider when modifying the workspace to move workers back safely:
- Remove spaces that are shared excessively or ones that cannot be monitored properly.
- Where possible, redesign workplace layout to prevent surfaces from being shared and used by multiple people in a short period of time.
- Provide hygiene stations with free wipes, disinfectant, and tissues.
- Remove any ‘hotdesks’ or communal sleeping pods.
- Encourage staff to bring utensils from home so they do not have to share ones in the kitchen.
Modifying the environment and administering clear cleaning policies will be a momentous step in the journey to bringing workers back into the office.
Just by knowing that the environment they are returning to is safe, workers will feel far more inclined to move back into an on-site working model.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the importance of being adaptable and antifragile should not be undervalued moving forward.
Being patient and putting your staff’s safety in front of anything else will be what ultimately brings your workers back into the office. As the saying goes, time heals everything.
But, given that time is also a precious resource, effective communication, displaying empathy, and being highly organized will hasten this process.
Be confident in your planning of moving workers back and do not be afraid to strip back your company’s values.
Above all, be an ally to your employees and work through this transition together.