We are still living in a very uncertain time, making it a huge challenge to plan for the future. Which is why strategies for returning to work need to be flexible. Here we look at how to monitor, measure and communicate your plan to return staff to work.


Consider short term and long-term action

Now that some countries are beginning to allow phased returns to work, are you prepared? Looking at short- and long-term action is key to ensuring the smooth transition of staff back to their place of work.

Short term measures will ensure that a small percentage of staff can immediately return to the office in a phased approach. This could be putting up screens, installing floor markings to direct the flow of footfall around the office, ramping up cleaning and hygiene regimes, and ensuring work stations are physically distanced.

However, right now we have no idea how long any phased approach might last. There are still many uncertainties, including how people might travel to work, who will look after their children and when people who are higher risk will be able to return. It makes planning very difficult, which is why considering long-term measures might make things easier in the future, especially if you are prepared to be flexible.

Planning now and implementing changes to last for the long-term will mean you can anticipate new changes and quickly respond or alter ways of working as needed. If you constantly see changes as short-term, you will always be waiting for things to return to how they were. However, we may never return to normality as we knew it before. Encouraging staff to adopt the mindset that any changes are the ‘new normal’ will help them to accept and embrace these changes, and settle into their new way of working.


Communication is key

How you communicate with staff will be the difference between them tolerating and accepting changes, or feeling fearful and disconnected.

Be open minded about suggestions from employees. They may be worried or anxious about returning to work, when they have been protected and safe at home. Working with other people will feel strange to begin with, so it’s important to reassure staff and continuously communicate with them.

Be prepared now for changes in the future to happen without warning. Businesses had little time to prepare for the lockdown measures resulting in the entire workforce having to shutdown or work remotely. We can learn from that and ensure that everything is in place for it to be a success if it happens again. It is quite possible that strict lockdown measures may be imposed again in the future, this time with an advantage of experience and having a plan. Ensure any problems you had the first-time round are rectified to make it easier if it does happen again.

A well-thought out communication strategy will be vital to ensuring staff feel valued and supported. Letting them know what will happen in any given situation, will mean further changes will be easier to cope with and less of a shock.

Communication with staff should be consistent and very clear. A proper strategy will help increase the credibility of any decisions and ensure staff are on board. Updates should be through multiple channels, not just email and website.


Flexible mindset

If there is anything we have learned from the current situation, it is that flexibility is vital. There is so much uncertainty about the future, those who maintain an open-mind and prepare a flexible approach will manage better.

Businesses are challenged with the need to react quickly, to protect their people and operations. Most businesses had limited time to anticipate or plan to get their employees and business priorities in order for a shutdown or into remote work arrangements. Ensuring the right technology was in place was a huge challenge for some of our clients, who are still trying to work through some aspects such as remote network access and file sharing. Planning now for more flexible and mobile user solutions will help the transition back to work go more smoothly, so that there are fewer hitches preventing people from working productively.

Be open minded to suggestions or changes that may need to happen. Always anticipate and expect further changes will be needed. This way plans are constantly evolving and adapting to the changing needs, rather than being set in stone. You can create a plan for people to return to the office, but that’s just the beginning. You will need to continually evaluate, monitor and adjust.

The world as we knew it before Covid-19 won’t be coming back anytime soon, so adaptions, being flexible and responsive is important.


Review and Monitor changes

Once you have people back in the office, be sure to observe how they are behaving and utilising different areas. Are people adhering to the envisioned plan? Are there areas that need to be adjusted or provide challenges to employees or the business? The plan for return is all about people and we know the challenge of predicting and managing people’s reactions and actions. By staying aware of how people are adjusting to the new norms in the workplace, you’ll be able to make modifications or intervene as needed, to support the behaviours and guidance put in place to protect everyone.

One example may be around staff wanting to adhere to physical distancing guidelines for their own safety, and that of others, some may not take it as seriously. Have a response approach detailing how to manage this. You don’t want other staff to feel unsafe, stressed and resentful because of a small minority, so be aware that you might need to have some tough conversations.

Disciplinary action might be taking things too far, however, you do want employees to recognise and respect the importance of physical distancing. A good approach might be to take individuals to one side who aren’t complying, to engage with them on a one-to-one basis, rather than shaming them in front of others. Explain why the measures have been put in place and the importance of sticking to them. Show empathy and understanding.

We all appreciate how difficult it is to adapt to a new way of working, particularly one which is a constant reminder of the situation. However, with time hopefully everyone should get on board and adapt, and it won’t feel so strange.


Read more about MovePlan’s Return to Work Critical Support service

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