Now that workplaces are returning to something like “normal” in the wake of the COVID-19, employers are now facing the challenge to determine whether they can balance bringing employees back into the workplace safely while attempting to return to normal modes of operation. Workforce reentry will certainly require logistical and operational planning, but it is not just employees’ physical well-being that employers must consider. How organizations will respond to employees’ emotional and psychological health is equally important as employers reopen their workplaces. Below, we discuss five ways that employers can bring employees back into the workplace while balancing employees’ physical and emotional well-being.
1. Communicate, Explain and Enforce All Safety Protocols
Before bringing any employees back into the workplace employers must communicate all safety protocols and precautions that will be taken in the workplace to all employees. This will help to minimize employees’ anxiety about returning to the office because employees know exactly what to expect and how their workplace may have changed prior to returning to the office. Employers should acknowledge that a lot has changed over the course of the pandemic and employers must understand that certain parts of their organization must run differently in order to adhere to their safety protocols. Once employees have returned to the workplace, it is understandable that managers and supervisors will be busy overseeing employees’ work; however, it is equally important that managers are ensuring that all safety protocols are met.
2. Decide the Right Time to Bring Employees Back to the Workplace
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer for employers. There are three key factors employers should consider when deciding on the right time to bring employees back into the workplace.
First, employers must take into consideration the potential impact on business outcomes, with special consideration for seasonal or unique timing. If business is booming and employees are very busy, maybe an employer should consider letting employees work remotely so as not to decrease productivity when bringing employees back into the workplace.
Second, consider your resources. For example, if you have 500 employees coming back into the workplace, it may be impossible for your IT department to onboard all 500 employees in one day, or even in one week. Depending on the organization’s resources, it may be best to bring employees back slowly over the course of a couple weeks or a month in order to ensure that any unplanned need for support or resources can be met with little to no interruption.
Third, employers should think about their employees’ individual readiness. Certain individuals may have personal concerns or issues that need to be addressed prior to deciding whether they should return to the office. Employers should make sure they stay in tune with employee needs and communicate all transition plans early. This will allow employees to provide feedback or share any of their personal constraints that may not permit or may constrain them from returning to the workplace. This may require employers to adapt to flexible self-scheduling of employees so that employees can accommodate their medical conditions or other personal reasons that may require those individuals to continue to work remotely.
3. Be Transparent with Employees
Employees will feel safe in the workplace if employers are completely transparent with their employees. Therefore, whether it is addressing employees’ personal concerns, sharing the company’s updates, or implementing new safety protocols, the employer must be transparent in all things. Remember that employees want to know everything relevant during these unpredictable times. Ensuring open and transparent communication with employees will ease tensions as employees return back to the workplace.
4. Ensure Community Safety is Your Top Priority
It is easy to adopt new safety measures for employees to follow, but it is difficult to enforce those safety protocols. While employers will likely be eager to get back to their normal operations, it is important for organizations to create training materials for managers and supervisors to communicate to their employees on the new safety protocols put in place. Employers should also implement protocols for managers and supervisors to follow if the new safety protocols are not followed. Those protocols should include who managers can report to and whether any disciplinary actions should be taken if the new safety measures are not followed. This will make not only employees, but employers feel that their health and well-being is a top priority when returning back to the workplace.
5. Embrace Cohorting
As part of your employees’ return to the workplace, employers may consider bringing employees back to work in different shifts. This is one way to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, especially if the workplace is unable to be adapted to social distancing. Cohorting means that employees would be split into groups and would only come in on certain days to avoid cross-contamination. Employees will only remain in physical contact with their team members and, if one employee gets affected by COVID-19, then only their team would need to quarantine, and employers would not need to close the entire office. This will help to prevent mass spreading and will help to reduce employees’ anxiety when returning to the workplace since there will be a reduced number of employees in the workplace every day.
It is important for all employers to understand that each organization has different needs and requires a different solution. Whichever industry your company is in, bringing back your employees to the workplace “normally” is not an easy task. However, if you consider these five factors to keep employees safe as you bring the back into the workplace, you will make it easier for the organization as a whole and your individual employees to return back to the workplace more confidently during this pandemic.