Many businesses haven't operated "normally" — if at all — for months. As we step out of lockdown and back into the workplace, what will be our new reality? What changes will be permanent? How can we smooth the transition for companies and workers alike?
The most visible changes will be to the physical space. New barriers, equipment, workflows and cleaning protocols will confront the returning worker. Businesses must keep up to date on the latest health and safety recommendations to help employees feel comfortable about being in the workplace.
Employees may also have to get used to not seeing the usual crew. In order to limit the number of employees present at the same time, many companies are bringing workers back gradually, with the most essential (or those who volunteered) returning first.
Alternatively, some businesses are establishing staggered work times, or a weekly in/out rotation where some teams are in the office while other teams work remotely.
Prioritize Communication and Positivity
Social isolation can wreak havoc on a person's emotional wellbeing. Many employees worked remotely in uncomfortable and distracting surroundings. Others, however, reveled in the flexibility and freedom from commute hassles. Extroverted types really missed the social interactions of working in a team. On the other hand, self-starters were more productive working alone. And when employees do come back, they'll be challenged by unfamiliar routines and surroundings.
The keys to supporting employee mental health during this difficult time are communication and adaptability. Managers can reduce uncertainty by sharing information frequently about changes in the environment and in work processes.
Equally important is to listen to employees about their new challenges and concerns. Team members who feel that they are part of the decisionmaking are better able to cope with those changes they can't control.
Getting people back into the workplace will often require developing individual plans. Employers will have to allow unprecedented levels of flexibility for employees to make their own decisions about where and when they work.
Company leaders who set a tone of compassion, honesty and optimism can play a big part in helping employees transition to onsite work without loss of engagement, loyalty or productivity.
Reestablish Core Values
Now is the time to remind everyone of the company's (and each role's) fundamental mission. Focusing anew on its goals, the team can move beyond the pandemic's roadblocks and pivot successfully to the "new normal."
At present, nobody knows how long the coronavirus will be with us or how many future waves we will endure. It could be years before we can stop worrying about infection. And many operations, from schools to restaurants to factories, may never be as they were before.
So the changes we implement now must be good for the long haul — and are definitely a worthwhile investment.
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