By Adam Booth
It's been a long year. One would like to hope that as a leader you'll never have to deal with anything as difficult as this pandemic. By no means are we done with this health crisis. However, strides are being made so we can now practically look at bringing people back into the workplace. That is a challenge in its own right, but one you can be ready for.
As vaccines become more available, and restrictions begin to lift, a serious conversation about when, what and how to bring your employees back into the workplace should be beginning to take place. Tens if not hundreds of questions, situations and circumstances will have to be examined and over analyzed as we all try to resume our working lives as best as we can. We know that office life will be different from how it was in February 2020, but to what degree?
Before one can even get started, polling your employees is recommended and can cut some of the heavy lifting for you. Their responses will let you know the time table you have to work with, as well as what you'll need at least in the short term. After that data is collected, we believe you should also consider the following.
- Make a comprehensive timetable for the return
Some members of your team may be eager to get out of the house and back in the office, ready to share ideas and stories of the past year, as well as attempting to put that behind them and getting back to what they know. Others will be skeptical about the timing of trying to bring people back and may be more hesitant to return. Both of these groups need to be addressed and their feelings heard. Collecting this data via a survey can be your foundation for how ready your team is to return.
With this information in hand, provide your employees with a detailed but easy to understand "road map" of what your plan is and how the time table matches to get as many people as they can back, safely. Make sure it is a calendar that everyone can have easy access to and leave it open for flexibility. Things can change week to week and your timetable should reflect that.
2. Health and Safety
It goes without saying no one is going to be back unless you can provide a clean and safe environment for your employees. Making sure your workspace is safe for your employees is priority one. Mask, wipes, hand sanitizers, even a few well placed "gentle reminders" can help your team feel comfortable as well as control the spread of the virus. This is a global health crisis and should be treated as such. Clorox products and N95 masks are your friends. Make sure everything in your place sparkles.
Furthermore, make sure you have a system in place for it to stay that way. Either hiring some service or keeping it in house, it will be important to have a designated group to ensure your office can stay open.
3. Legal issues
Some employees will be hesitant, if outright in their feelings about not returning. It could stem from their lack of child care as schools and the like fluctuate with keeping open, it could be just a general feeling of uncertainty about the world around them. Some will not comeback until they are fully vaccinated, others may refuse to get the vaccine all together. Make sure you know where you stand legally for all of your employees.
Discrimination can be a complicated issue here. You have to treat all employees as equally as you can, even if some are refusing to come back to work while others happily return. There may be many reasons why someone isn't ready, be prepared. Having a grasp on what your options are is a must.
4. Constantly Update Your Staff
As guidelines for how to handle the pandemic change, so should how you're handling it in your workplace. Things could begin to open up even more at a rapid pace, which could bring more people back than anticipated. Make sure your staff knows how many you plan to have to return so they can make decisions for themselves. It also gives you time to update your workplace with more supplies, actual workspace and possibly a staggered schedule to avoid overcrowding.
There should also be a plan in place just in case of another lockdown. Depending on the severity of said lockdown, you'll have to adjust your business accordingly. Keeping them up to date about how the organization is handling the situation and when they can anticipate news is critical for putting people's minds at ease for returning.
There are a lot of elements going into this new age of business we are entering. For better or for worse many things have and will need to change. The best thing you can do as a leader is be at the front of the line when new information emerges and keep your team informed. It will not be an easy process, and by no means will it be quick. But if you follow these guidelines and listen to your people, you will get through this and start getting your business back to "normal" as soon as possible.