Employers and business owners face unprecedented challenges as they prepare to welcome their employees back to the workplace in a safe and compliant manner, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
While some employers will take a more conservative approach to bringing employees back, others may consider transitioning workers to the workplace as soon as local government authorities and public health officials permit. Regardless of the timing, business leaders will need to take actions to help employees adjust to being back in the workplace to help ensure a smooth transition, with least disruption.
Your company’s approach will be uniquely yours, but the guidance below can serve as a starting point for helping you create a safe and productive environment for your employees.
Keeping employees safe is the number one job for leaders. Let individuals know that their well-being is a top priority and that everything you are doing now (increased handwashing, expanded cleaning and sanitizing in high-touch areas such as door handles, elevator buttons, and countertops, etc.) meets recommendations from the CDC and other public health authorities. In addition, employers should:
• Stay current with updates from the CDC on worker safety, sanitation policies and employee travel.
• Provide appropriate health and well-being training and orientation prior to transitioning employees back to their regular workplace.
• Don’t pressure people to come back to the workplace, particularly those who are or who may reside with people in higher-risk categories.
Lead with empathy and understanding
This is a time for leaders to be flexible and compassionate and understand what employees are dealing with, particularly in the current environment. Now is not the time to be silent or to assume that your people are okay unless they speak up or say otherwise. Ensure employees that you relate to their concerns and they are not alone. Provide an opportunity to engage in authentic and ongoing dialogue so that employees can express their views and feelings as they are dealing with varying emotions.
Communicate early, clearly and consistently
In times of increased stress and uncertainty, transparent and frequent communication is essential to helping employees feel safe and make sense of what has happened. Use this time to send people regular updates through a variety of communication channels – and be specific about what you know and don’t know and when you will provide additional information.
Create stability through daily rituals
With so much uncertainty it is critical to provide some stability through routine practices such as morning huddles, open office hours, town hall meetings and weekly one-on-ones. These provide the predictability and structure employees need to feel in control. Find ways to include employees who may still be working off-site, as well as those who have returned to their regular worksites.
Encourage employees to be part of the solution
One of the most empowering things an employer can do is to provide a forum for receiving and responding to employee feedback. When employees feel they have a say over decisions that affect their jobs, they are more likely to adapt to new situations more quickly. Expect a degree of disorientation when employees return to the workplace as they adapt to the new environment (which may include barriers, signage, mask requirements, altered cafeteria or coffee-break areas) and to refresh their memories of what working in their previous environment entailed.
Encourage frequent mental breaks
Wellness and mindfulness practices such as deep breathing, yoga, or a walk outdoors, can help to reduce work-related stress and help employees balance their day in a productive way. In addition:
Narrow your focus to the critical few priorities that will make the biggest difference
Some projects and goals may need to be de-prioritized to allow for more pressing priorities to come to the forefront. Leaders should provide focused and outcome-driven execution plans so that employees understand which tasks are urgent so that they can deliver on their goals successfully.
Follow TriNet’s COVID-19 Business Resiliency and Preparedness Center for critical up-to-date information on changing regulations and their impact on small and medium size businesses.
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