Transitioning Back To Work – Where To Start

We’ve all settled into life with COVID by this point, but it’s time to shake off the pandemic and start focusing on returning to work. Time is of the essence as certain countries and provinces are opening back up to pre-pandemic normalcy and others not far behind. The prediction is that we will be back to offices and “normal” by the end of 2021, which is only 5 months away! 

Now is the time to start thinking about what this is going to look like for your organization and employees. Returning safely is going to look different for each business and industry and is going to require some reflection. What’s going to stay the same as it once was? What’s going to be different now? Where should leaders be focusing? There are many things to take into consideration and it can be overwhelming to figure out where to start. 

What are the first steps?

The first step that leaders should be taking is determining what the return to work plan is for their organization. What’s the plan moving forward? Some organizations might have everyone returning to in-person work, others might consider doing a hybrid model with a combination of remote and in-person employees or perhaps remaining fully remote. This setup is going to be unique to each organization and industry. 

In order to figure this out, the leadership team should come together and reflect upon the last 12-16 months. Looking at what went well? What didn’t go well? If you’ve been primarily remote, have you excelled at that? Has our company culture shifted? Have sales increased? Has productivity increased? Has profit increased? Or if you had a hybrid model, did you excel at that? Or was business as usual with everyone still working in-person? It’s also important to reflect on what hasn’t worked well and ensure that adjustments are made in those areas. 

After that reflection it’s important to determine what your HR strategy will be moving forward for returning to work.  Will you stagger the entry of returning to work? Will you see who’s the most comfortable returning first? Will everyone return at the same time? Discussing this plan as a leadership team will ensure you are all on the same page and sending the same message.  You can also discuss things such as, how will we communicate any Health Authority restrictions or updates that come down, how will we keep each other safe in the workplace, will we still have some restrictions even if they aren’t mandated, etc.

Once those discussions have happened, we recommend doing employee engagement interviews. This offers your employees a chance to share with you what has worked or not worked for them. This is a service that Daeco can support with. We conduct employee engagement interviews and firmly believe that interviews can provide significantly more information through a casual two-way conversation rather than surveys. The information and feedback gained through employee engagement interviews is of much higher quality and offers more insight into what employees really want or don’t want. Their feedback is valuable to have in order to create a return to work plan that is best suited for the needs of most employees in the organization. 

Creating a return to work plan

When creating the return to work plan, there are key areas that leaders should be focused on:

  • Conduct employee engagement interviews to get feedback and input as this transition happens.

  • Don’t feel the need to return to pre-pandemic ‘normal’ right away or at all.

  • Be informed on the most up-to-date safety and workplace regulations and recommendations that are relevant to the industry and organization.

  • Revisit and clearly communicate what success looks like now for the organization as well as employees. There has been a significant change in the way things have been done for the past year. Whether you’re remaining remote or returning to work, there are likely some updates that need to be done to your vision, values, goals, processes, policies, etc.

  • Create a return to work on-boarding plan and process. This should include small details as employees have been out of the office for quite some time and may not be used to the office routine. They may need a refresher on culture and workplace norms. Take more time for reflection here, what still makes sense? What doesn’t?

  • Be intentional so that remote employees don’t feel left out. Whether you remain fully remote or take on a hybrid approach, it will be important to continue doing monthly team building sessions, both virtually and in-person to get to know each other outside of work again and support those who remain remote.

  • Celebrate small wins as often as possible. It has been a tough year with an abundance of disheartening news and events. Celebrating small wins brings some joy back and also helps promote a culture of community and acknowledgement.

  • Ensure mental health options and resources are easily and consistently available.  

Supporting employees through the transition

In order to best support employees through this transition, it’s going to be crucial to focus on and create a solid return to work plan. Once that has been established, start having conversations with your team and clearly explain the strategy that is driving the plan. Spell out for them what is staying the same, what is changing and where the focus is going to be over the next 3, 6 and 12 months.  

Employees want to feel heard, included and valued within the workplace, whether they are remote or in-person. Including them in employee engagement interviews allows them to offer their feedback and let you know where they’re at in terms of their feelings about returning to work, or not. They want to feel confident in what success looks like for them, the organization and that the organization’s values have not changed. 

The wellbeing and health of your employees is also going to be at the forefront and will hugely impact performance. They want to be communicated with and know what’s going on, so best practice is going to be to over communicate with them and set clear expectations. Business must go on, but ensuring that the majority of the team is on-board and well-informed about how things are going to continue on will make the transition smoother. 

Mental health has been at the forefront for months now and will inevitably continue to be a huge focus for employees and leaders. A great way to support your team’s mental health is by offering flexibility when they do return to work. Working from home has allowed for much more flexibility in terms of scheduling and many organizations have seen an increase in productivity and profit as a result. If a flexible work schedule becomes normalized or is something your organization is exploring, it’s important to consider what this might look like. 

Organizations should also be looking at their employee assistance programs. Call your benefits provider and get informed about what you are already paying for. Remind employees of what these benefits are and encourage them to take advantage of them. If you are choosing to remain remote or are considering a hybrid model, ensure you are providing employees with the tools and resources needed to complete their work. We’ve learned throughout the pandemic that better use of technology allows for better teamwork, productivity and key deliverables. 

What if employees don’t want to return to the office?

Conversations should be had with all employees about their comfort level in returning to work. This not only helps decide the plan going forward, but could also help determine who comes back first.

If you have employees who are hesitant and not keen on returning to work, have a conversation with them. Figure out what is impacting them from returning to work and what they like about working remotely. Perhaps there is a way to meet in the middle. If it’s a safety concern, address those and outline which protocols (masks, social distancing) will still be in place. Find out where the hesitancy is and do your best to ensure they feel safe and supported in returning to work. Many employees are going to view the relationship with work differently now and so they should. Again, some reflection on how your organization worked over these past 12-16 months and why it worked might result in some changes that benefit the organization as a whole.  

The most important factor to keep in mind is that this is not going to be a one-size fits all approach. The path forward is going to be unique based on your industry and organization. Which is why having conversations, seeking feedback and keeping everyone informed is crucial. If you’re looking for support on creating this plan and connecting with your employees, Daeco can help! Daeco doesn’t do a one-size fits all, we offer a customized approach and take into account the unique factors that affect your organization. This plan is going to need to be tailored to the needs of each organization and we have experience doing this with a variety of sectors and companies. 

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