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A hopeful revival of the global economy may be troubled by the recent uncertainty caused by the pandemic, but companies and managers alike are beginning to rethink a return to work. For business leaders, the task of reboarding after a national lockdown can feel unfamiliar. Workplace settings have had to overhaul policies and practices alike, with new safety measures like social distancing and remote work that might cause teams to break apart.
With the easing of lockdown rules, more employees are actively returning to the workplace. That might mean that offices are reopening, employees are returning from furlough, and flexible remote working alternatives are increasingly becoming part of the new normal.
It would seem businesses are mixed when it comes to detailing a formal return to work plan or strategy. Regardless, as reports suggest, many are expecting a stagnated return of their workforce in the coming months, with an 88% share of employees expected to return by the end of December. With these new changes in the way the workforce returns to work, what can business leaders do to ensure the reboarding process is smooth and effective?
1. Reopen your business digitally
For many businesses, reopening and returning to work will likely involve a departure from your familiar working routines and workplace practices. Many businesses are staggering start times for their employees and rotating daily office hours. Businesses are increasingly experimenting with rotas, changing regularly which team members are in the office on daily or weekly schedules.
Yet, for those still working remotely, you can return to work and reopen your business digitally. Technology has enabled larger businesses, with sprawling teams, to remain connected and productive. In many scenarios, businesses have fully taken their operation online, using digital resources like videoconferencing to stay connected and keep teams informed, productive, and on-track.
Returning to the workplace, either in part or full, is still largely guided by the changing advice and restrictions of the government. Employee safety and wellbeing has taken a primary focus throughout this reboarding process, with extra provisions ensuring that staff members feel effective and committed at their workstations. Social distancing, staggered arrivals, and limited office capacities – these responsible measures are now commonplace for operations that are compliantly managing the delivery of their business in these difficult times.
In most scenarios, offices are operating at mixed capacities, with few attending the workplace, and the remainder of staff working remotely. Managers can use digital tools, here, to create bridges between staff, helping them remain connected. Enhance how they interact, by introducing regular videoconferencing, messaging platforms like Microsoft Teams, and intelligent file sharing apps like OneDrive. You can transition your workplace digitally using these tools.
The right technology can boost employee productivity and facilitate strong communication with distanced teams. Managers should work to carefully balance between the two benefits of technology, learning and discovering continuously from these new resources how a workforce coming out of lockdown can better itself.
Safety tip: As more businesses return to work digitally, there is a greater urgency for cyber-awareness and security in firms. This becomes especially important where employees may be using their own devices to carry sensitive information or are using insecure internet connections from home. Part of a reboarding policy should include matters of cybersecurity. This policy needs to be clear, transparent, and readily available.
2. Practice safety-first collaboration
Often a team’s best moments can occur when they come together – creatively, collaboratively, and effectively. Yet, when creating a return to work plan, business leaders should establish safety principles that ensure that their teams always feel safe (inside and out of the office). Initiating safety-first collaboration starts with regular conversations with your team about safety issues. This is an invitation for your team to raise any concerns and becomes an opportunity for business leaders to address anxieties before they become damaging to productivity.
Common workplace policies include physical distancing, new floor plans, and restrictions in how teams meet and collaborate. Virtual chat apps and employee engagement platforms can help teams remain connected and build environments for creative collaboration, without compromising the safety of a team.
Leadership tip: Policies are not static pieces of documentation. Rather, they should be updated regularly to reflect the changing world outside of your business. These policies need to capture, and respond to, key issues in the moment: how will you safely reboard employees into the office? What are critical steps to ensure their safety? How will you ensure the survival of your company’s culture? Your policy acts like an insurance to key operational issues, like employee welfare, or office compliance. Having these in place is foundational to a safer workplace.
3. Keep teams connected
Many industries have gone through a digital transformation of sorts. This has introduced new technologies that impact the way teams communicate, connect, and collaborate. This change has happened at an accelerated pace, which can feel disarraying.
Whether or not this influx of new technologies is a short-term remedy, or a long-term solution is still unclear. The key takeaway from new technology is simple: it can keep us connected, however large the distance. Communication is a lifeline for both in-office and remote teams. For businesses leaders who are early adopters of these new apps, there is an immense opportunity to empower communication.
Productivity tip: When you and your colleagues return to work, keep your team connected with regular virtual meetings. More importantly, these virtual meetings shouldn’t be exclusively formal; turn these meetings into opportunities to personally connect with team members. This will be helpful not only for teams that collaborate often, but help employees develop a strong sense of connection and belonging. Consider using virtual or socially distanced meetings for culture-building exercises that can strengthen the bond between members of your team.
4. Convenience with videoconferencing
A return to work experience should feel like a convenient transition, especially if you’re reboarding a remote workforce. Collaboration tools like Microsoft’s Teams, Zoom, RingCentral, or Google Hangouts can be a saviour for businesses (both big and small) that want the convenience of quick, easy communication without the hassle of setups and slowdowns.
During the pandemic, videoconferencing has become essential for team-wide communication and collaboration. For businesses re-emerging from lockdown, these tools have helped teams rediscover their sense of creativity and collaboration in new and productive ways.
Management tip: New technologies, which have been onboarded rapidly, can sometimes confuse and frustrate teams if they don’t receive the proper training. Before introducing new platforms or apps into a business environment, it’s worth investing in training courses and gathering employee feedback. Consider sending out pulse surveys to better understand what your employees need to successfully return to work and how they feel about your company’s current tech stack.
5. Internal FAQs can clarify policy
Returning to work is a tough period of transition, a time when your staff will likely have questions. Company-wide FAQs are a great way to pre-emptively address any safety concerns about those who are returning to work. Distribute and update FAQs regularly with essential information that your employees will want to know before returning back to an office. A structured, thoughtful list of FAQs can create a unified resource for all employees. Build an internal communications plan to broaden reach and awareness with your workforce. Send out your FAQs via email, post them on your company’s intranet, and alert employees in your messaging platform.
Communication tip: FAQs are only as effective as the information they contain. To ensure accuracy, keep these updated and even encourage staff to ask any questions – and provide relevant answers in your FAQ section. This is a great chance to address policy and any changes to the workplace. It can help to secure expert advice to guide the kinds of key information your business should be making available for its employees. Another great idea is to host company-wide office hours, where leadership is available to answer any questions in real-time.
Return to work with confidence
For business leaders who want to maintain high employee engagement, planning and research should be early steps in setting up your business to return to work. There is no universal law for reboarding or opening your office again, other than compulsory safety guidance. If you’re an organization in need of a framework to successfully return to work, these strategies can guide a safe and productive return.
To learn more about how to successfully return to work, access Achievers’ webinar, “The Science of a Successful Return to Work.”
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