By: Julia Figlotti
The COVID-19 crisis has brought change to our society and businesses in extraordinary ways. Whether your workforce has transitioned to 100% remote or you’ve had to furlough your staff and close your company’s doors, all organizations are experiencing the impacts of a global pandemic. The future of work has been forever changed.
As certain countries and states begin to relax their stay-at-home orders in the hopes that the economy will get a boost, businesses are beginning to open their doors to employees and customers alike. For those preparing to initiate re-entry into the workplace as restrictions are lifted, here are some things to keep in mind to ensure an experience that is as safe and productive as possible for everyone involved.
Agree on current and return-to-work policies
The first step is to decide on the return-to-work policies your organization will enact, both in the near- and far-term. It is widely agreed that COVID-19 will forever change the way companies operate, and making policy decisions during this period of transition is crucial to your company’s future success. Your team should consider the following:
- What is the current state of your workforce?
Are they 100% furloughed, 100% remote, or somewhere in between? This is your starting point, from which all other decisions should be based.
- Will reintegrating your employees into a physical workplace increase their productivity?
If so, to what extent? Health experts still recommend social distancing as much as possible for the foreseeable future, and if your workforce is operating at full force while remote, then you’re encouraged to wait until it’s safer to bring people back to the office. For those reintegrating earlier, make sure they have access to health and prevention resources.
- How often is the workplace cleaned, and what health protections will employees have access to?
Ensure your janitorial schedule is frequent and includes disinfecting and deep-cleaning surfaces that are commonly touched, and provide protective gear like masks, gloves, and temperature check points for your returning workforce.
- How will you regulate visitors to your location, such as clients or presenters?
Look out for your workforce and consider introducing new procedures to ensure preventive measures are taken to lessen the chance of exposure.
- What does your existing mail and delivery protocol look like?
Create guidelines for delivery interaction and post signs to communicate these changes with your mail carriers and delivery providers.
- Beyond the official reintegration, it is worth reviewing your remote-working policy during times of normalcy.
If you find that many of your employees feel more productive while working from home, and the quality of their work hasn’t changed, you may decide to introduce a more flexible remote-working policy.
- What does your sick time policy look like?
Consider relaxing the regulations and encouraging employees to prioritize wellness over work to avoid spreading contagions, and providing remote options for those experiencing minor COVID-19 symptoms but who still feel well enough to work. Since there is currently no approved vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, prevention is the next best thing.
- What is your physical workspace layout?
Is it an open floor plan, or does each employee have a separate office space? While open floor plans have been lauded for their creativity-inducing atmospheres, early research shows that contagions are even more likely to spread in such a setup. If this applies to your floorplan, take precautions like moving desks and work stations to ensure at least six feet of separation between individuals.
- Do you have shared kitchen and meeting spaces?
If so, think about how you might enforce capacity or distancing restrictions.
- How much of your organization operates digitally?
From company-wide meetings to timesheets and internal processes, we are learning how much is possible with the right technological program. Now is a great time to think about whether a digital transformation is right for your organization. If you’ve already begun a digital transformation, consider how you’ll keep it moving as your workforce transitions back from remote working.
- What happens if an employee contracts COVID-19 during the reintegration?
Ensure you have a procedure in place to safely and legally handle that possible outcome.
- How will you communicate policy updates?
Ensure each department works with HR to build the new policies and/or support the messaging, and decide on who will disseminate the information.
Reintegrating your workforce
Whether you begin staffing your workplace as soon as restrictions are lifted or wait until a vaccine is on the market, most organizations will be reintroducing employees to offices and work buildings in the future. But after working from their homes for the past several weeks on schedules influenced by kids, quarantine, and pajamas as clothes, reintegration could be challenging for many employees. How can your team ensure a smooth transition back into the office?
Take it in phases
Reintegrate employees back into the workspace at a gradual, deliberate pace. Consider who in your workforce would most benefit from being back in an office setting, and who may need more time at home – for example, to accommodate their children’s continued school closures, or to avoid public transportation. If possible, send out a survey ahead of time to gather this information, and be understanding. The point is not to bring everyone into work at the same time, but rather to gradually transition your workforce back into pre-COVID operations. So if some people are unable to come back right away, try to see that as a convenience for the phased reintegration approach.
Employees should have plenty of space – at least six feet – around their working areas and should continue to limit physical contact with one another. As time goes on, and in alignment with healthcare experts’ recommendations, you can begin to invite more employees to resume operations in the workplace.
The role of internal communications
This continues to be an unprecedented time for many organizations, and experiencing it without ongoing communication would be even more challenging. Internal communications have been crucial so far in disseminating company distancing and remote-working policies, and will continue to be vital as organizations are faced with the task of transmitting reintegration approaches.
But it’s more than just policy and change communications. There is a need to provide insight into the reintegration timeline, new health and security measures in the workplace, and the ongoing pandemic-related decisions of the executive staff. In addition, your organization must cohesively convey information from top leadership downward and between departments, including response plans if COVID-19 breakouts make a comeback post-reintegration. And of course, you’ll need to communicate all of this in an effective, strategic way that stands apart from the barrage of emails employees receive daily.
Consider partnering with an external provider to build a communication strategy. If you choose this route, you’ll be able to utilize a communication journey for the rollout of new COVID-19-related policies or procedures, and stay on top of communicating to a diverse workforce if there are sudden updates or changes with a change communications software that offers agile, ad hoc messaging.
Whatever your approach, we wish your employees and your organization the best as we all gear up to meet the next normal. We are all crafting the future of work, here and now. How will we define it?