Back To The (New) Future

Following a year dominated by the pandemic, we are slowly but surely seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. With the deployment of vaccines, loosening of quarantine restrictions, and kids going back to school, there is renewed optimism all around.

As work environments shift back to the office, businesses must accept the fact that the workplace will not be the same. A new normal exists and we all have to fit in. New protocols will have to be in place to deal with the impact of dividing the workforce. A survey by the PwC Market Research Centre revealed that only one in five chief financial officers said that their company could resume ‘business as usual’ within a month if the crisis ended today. To avoid overwhelming both employers and employees, harm the company’s culture and morale, or lead a chain of COVID-19 cases in the organization, the need for a concrete plan for the ‘big comeback’ is pivotal.

Return-to-work (RTW) can be stressful but with proper planning and regular dialogue, managers and HR professionals can help teams navigate the transition while minimizing disruptions. Implementing measures that maintain a secure working environment and effectively communicating these measures will instil employee confidence.

Here’s a quick guide to bringing staff back to the office, safely and efficiently:

Regular Pre-RTW Discussions

Although employees are eager to get out of the house, a good number are still anxious. Fear of contracting the virus on public transport and in the office is the main concern. Management should reach out early and have open conversations with their employees. Share detailed plans on what you are doing to keep them safe and secure in the office environment. Some businesses are splitting their teams into rotating shifts, i.e. working from home or in the office on alternate days or weeks. Informing your employees about their jobs and priorities will prevent anxiety, and help them to slowly adjust to the idea of RTW.

Rethink Workplace Safety

Some norms of the pandemic would still need to be in place at the physical workplace. Spacing desks apart for social distancing, wearing masks, as well as safe entry and temperature checks will remain.  Reminding staff to regularly practise personal hygiene such as washing hands, using hand sanitizers, and disinfecting hard surfaces in the office will boost workplace safety.  

Accelerate Digital Adoption

Digital communication and transformation have developed into a necessity. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that video conferencing apps like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet are viable alternatives to in-person meetings. With limited in-person client meetings and a portion of the staff still working from home, investments in tech apps and software like Pro or Business Zoom accounts can free up time, reduce travel costs and increase productivity. Limiting physical meetings will also keep everyone safe.

Recharge Employee Engagement

Active listening is key to building strong workplace relationships as well as enhancing productivity and personal empowerment. Strong leaders understand that the ability to listen is just as critical to their impact on others as their ability to communicate. Through open communication, they provide the work team with the space to exchange ideas, address challenges, and give feedback. By demonstrating empathy and compassion, influential leaders make those being listened to, feel valued and important. Leaders who lead by example, can successfully shape employee engagement and build trust, loyalty and commitment.

Technological changes, lack of internal collaboration and consensus between departments, amongst other disruptions, have put a damper on employee morale. Recharging employee engagement is crucial to bringing your company’s dynamic back to pre-pandemic levels. Management teams and HR professionals must focus on employee branding and communication, including creating immersive and engaging initiatives. Team-building exercises, Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions, and sharing of company updates or developments through regular townhalls, newsletters or videos are effective channels to check in with employees and keep everybody on the same page.

Written by: Tanisha Khanna

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