Telecommuting took off during the earliest months of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some companies, including biggies like Mastercard and Facebook, are allowing workers to remain at home for as long as needed.
Other employers, though, want to bring employees back in-house. Their biggest concern? How to make the transition seamless and safe rather than clunky and cumbersome.
If your goal is to return to a hustling, bustling work environment that’s closer to pre-coronavirus days, you’ll need to plan. While putting up social distancing reminders and handing out free masks is a good start, it’s not enough. Many team members may be reluctant to return to the office. To ensure that they’re comfortable working side-by-side with colleagues again, take a few pragmatic measures.
- Put the team’s healthcare needs front and center.
People remain wary of working in environments that might lead to exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. You can ease their worries by taking advantage of technology and tools to ensure that no one who presents symptoms comes into the building.
What are some good options? Beyond self-reporting, consider setting up a simple COVID employee screening tool that will enable everyone to check in before work. You may also want to invest in other tools and procedures like thermometers that read everyone’s temperature upon arrival into the building, onsite COVID tests, and frequently cleaned areas for eating.
By putting precautions into place immediately, your workers will have fewer objections to being in the workplace.
- Allow a hybrid working model approach.
Bringing everyone back to the office might seem like too abrupt a change for many people. To ease into the pre-pandemic style of being onsite, consider allowing personnel to stagger their times in-office and working from home if you can.
For example, you may encourage some staff members to alternate between days in and out of the workplace. This serves two purposes, actually. First, you stagger your workforce, effectively halving the number of individuals in the office at any one time. Additionally, you make it less jarring for parents who may have to find daycare or babysitting for kids involved in online education.
The key to this solution is flexibility and individuality. Most employees will appreciate having a say in their scheduling, and will work with you to arrive at a reasonable solution.
- Change everyone’s start and end hours.
Daily life may have changed radically for some of your team members. For example, your marketing department head might have to take care of aging parents fearful of shopping because of their pre-existing conditions. Or the IT assistant may have a kindergartener whose school has gone completely online.
Show empathy and compassion for unique situations by being open to different start and end times. The marketing department staffer could leave halfway through the day, take an extended lunch break to be with family, and work until later. And the IT assistant? A good solution could be to allow her to come in very early, log a few hours, and then work from home the rest of the day.
Making adjustments is the name of the game. As long as everyone’s being productive and finishing projects, where and when they work should play a secondary role.
- Keep the lines of communication open.
As you move back to everyone being in the workplace at least part of the time, you’ll run into stumbling blocks. Some can’t be foreseen. However, don’t assume that you’ll be the first to know. You may not—unless you keep communications flowing.
Set up a method for people to talk about their back-to-workplace transitions, such as a specific Slack channel or some kind of company wiki full of news and helpful info. Use these things as vehicles for everyone to stay in touch and discuss any rough patches. Although you don’t want to indulge complainers, you need to present your folks with a safe way to air their concerns.
Staying on top of communications is essential, especially in corporate crisis situations. Employees need to hear from you more than they ever did before.
- Lead with deep compassion and concern for your workers.
Before the pandemic, your team may have run on coffee, hard work, and persistence. Today, workers probably need softer or more empathetic motivators. (To be sure, coffee is likely still the beverage of choice, so be sure to keep the coffee pot sanitized and pantry stocked.)
This can be unsettling, particularly if you’ve always approached management from a harder-edged, disciplinarian angle. Take the time to read up on alternative ways to motivate and inspire those around you. Now is the right time to improve your listening skills and improve your ability to show your humanity.
Use this moment in time to make internal pivots on how you deal with others. If nothing else, you’ll enhance and hone your executive skills by adding more options to your personal leadership toolkit.
In March and April 2020, coming back to work was all that people talked about. Today, they might be less thrilled at the notion of being away from their kids, pets, or spouses. Rather than going toe-to-toe with reluctant employees, meet them in the middle and help them adapt back to what used to be the status quo.