Make returning to work after COVID-19 more comfortable by focusing on employees’ physical and mental health, productivity, and connections.
A return to regular work is imminent for many employees across the world, as restrictions in place as part of the coronavirus response are reviewed.
It is a long-awaited move for businesses that have struggled through the disruption of remote working, social isolation, and travel restrictions.
But a reintroduction to office life can be risky if mismanaged. Businesses that fail to properly plan for this shift back to the office risk a fitful, delicate, and partial transition.
CEOs planning to reintegrate back into their regular business premises require a plan that maintains safety, manages resources, and rebuilds morale. Below are 8 important considerations to safeguard a successful transition back to work.
1. Organizing and Handling Employees in the Workplace
Large volumes of employees returning to a shared workplace poses a huge risk for the spreading and contracting of viruses. Managing the number of workers will be critical to protecting workplace health. The higher the number, the higher the risk.
One approach is to resume work in stages to allow adaptations to be carried out. Organizations can establish a process such that a rotating group of employees work from the office every few days. These groups can be created across functional lines, both to ensure coverage across roles and to support employee distancing.
Restricting employee numbers in this way will create a greater need for shift coverage. Beyond healthcare and similar essential services, this will also affect call centers, frontline retail, manufacturing, and other industries.
2. Continuing with Remote Work Options
Despite the availability of regular workplaces, it is critical for businesses to carry on with some form of remote working for several months (at least). The reasons for this are financial and practical.
Many organizations will elect to keep staff working from home for economic reasons. Others may have a return to remote working forced upon them if a staff member suddenly contracts the virus. This reinforces the importance of an effective, secure communications platform to connect with employees working from home.
3. Rethinking the Physical Workspace
Reopening of workplaces will not entirely remove all restrictions imposed during COVID-19. Organizations will still need to observe regulations governing social distancing, employee gatherings and hygiene practices. It is likely that pre-virus working environments are unsuited to these new restrictions.
Businesses will need to be proactive in reconfiguring their office spaces. The requirement for 6 feet between employees impacts on individual seating arrangements and shared spaces like cafeterias, for example.
4. Re-establishing Office Morale
The human component of returning to office life requires as much focus as the practical one. For staff who have been away from their workplaces for weeks or months, returning will feel unsettling. Much may have changed in the interim. Some of their old colleagues may not be returning at all.
Successful businesses thrive on motivated workforces, so it is important leaders invest efforts to rebuild workplace morale. Acknowledge any employee concerns and dispiritedness and treat announcements regarding the new operating environment with sensitivity.
There are many ways businesses can improve workplace culture, including promoting achievements, encouraging cross-functional collaboration, and painting a positive vision of the future.
5. Reviewing Technology Infrastructure
For most organizations, the nature of how they work will take many months to return to what it was prior to COVID-19 disruption – if it returns at all. That means there are now likely to be deficiencies in the infrastructure and support that employees need to perform their jobs.
Effective platforms to enable employee communication, connectivity and collaboration are essential to sustain business success. Every department should review their operations and identify any areas of deficiency – especially in technology and communication infrastructure. Research, evaluation, and implementation should be fast-tracked to avoid a crippling loss of productivity.
Investment in these areas is being accelerated by IT teams worldwide to support the thousands of employees working from home. A survey of CIOs and senior tech executives revealed that it now makes up more than 30% of annual IT budget for a number of organizations.
6. Updating Policies & Procedures
The coronavirus pandemic has forever changed the way every industry does business. As a result, a business may need to review its current policies and procedures and update them to fit current best practices.
For example, it may be prudent to update the organization’s sick leave policy to include information about COVID-19. Do employees get extra days off if they test positive for the coronavirus? If so, how many? Is there leave for employees who live with or care for an infected person?
Consider whether there is anything in the business continuity or return to work plan that requires existing employment policies to be amended, or new polices to be adopted, and how those policy changes will be communicated to employees. In the case of a unionized workplace, consider whether the business continuity/return to work plan complies with any collective agreements, and whether consultation with the union is necessary or advisable in relation to the plan.
7. Maintaining Communication
The COVID-19 situation has pushed organizations to boost their communications. Many have communicated with their staff more in the last couple of months than they traditionally do under normal conditions. The value of internal communications during this crisis has been recognized by C-suite leaders.
Returning to usual workplaces is not the time to relax this. Progress that has been made on business initiatives while working remotely must continue seamlessly when back in the office. It is easy for a change in environment to cause a disruption of focus but keeping lines of communication open helps overcome this.
Maintaining a regular frequency of communications also provides reassurance to employees who will naturally have questions about the future of the business and their roles. Two-way communication channels, such as employee surveys, should be presented to capture workplace sentiment around how staff are feeling and what they need.
8. Learning from the Pandemic
The changes to work enforced by COVID-19 have delivered some benefits to businesses. Many have uncovered stronger collaboration within and across teams, more productive working routines, and a reinforcement of positive health practices. Smart businesses will now seek to embed the lessons learned into how they conduct business in future.
Foster virtual collaboration in person by encouraging cross-functional committees and rearranging seating arrangements to enable this. Break down silos by regularly communicating the status of key projects for each functional area. Maintain healthy workplace hygiene by reminding sick staff to stay home – particularly important with the continued risk of COVID-19 infection.
Return to work programs are essential for businesses to develop now. Taking these considerations in mind when developing your plan for transitioning back into office life will help ensure yours is a successful return – not a fragile one.
The Litcom Approach
Business continuity (BCP) and disaster recovery plans (DRP) are used to prepare for potentially disruptive incidents and ensure that your business can minimize the negative effects of those events. Litcom can test your plan to ensure that an incident doesn’t turn into an avalanche of financial and reputational penalties. After understanding your unique business processes and technologies in place, our team will review the documented BCP and/or DRP for compliance with industry best practices and published standards. Litcom will then issue a report analyzing your BCP/DRP, identify gaps and offer guidance to remediate those gaps. Contact us today for more information.