Six best practices to consider before reopening.
By Andrew Rawson
Many organizations are now focusing on when and howÂ to reopen, and what changes to make before employeesÂ return to the physical workplace. Itâs a complicatedÂ process that involves many steps, from implementingÂ health and safety guidelines to making employees feelÂ as comfortable as possible navigating a changing workÂ environment. While every organization is different, hereÂ are six things to consider when preparing employees forÂ some of the adjustments they may expect in their day-to-day interactions and operations.
1. Create a return-to-work plan. A return-to-work planÂ should be as detailed as possible, keeping in mind thatÂ there will be regular updates and revisions. Some areasÂ to consider include preparing for a new normal, healthÂ and safety protocols and policies, physical distancing,Â personal protective equipment, the role of managers,Â and an easy-to-read FAQ sheet. Providing return-to-workÂ training and communication prior to employeesÂ going back to the workplace can help individuals adjustÂ physically and emotionally, and reassure them of theÂ steps the organization is taking to keep everyone safe,Â healthy, and productive.
2. Increase communication. In a recent SHRM surveyÂ of more than 2,200 HR professionals, 65 percentÂ of respondents said maintaining employee moraleÂ during COVID-19 has been a challenge. At a time whenÂ employees are looking for reassurance, support, andÂ leadership, organizations should ramp up their effortsÂ to communicate often and honestly. This should beÂ done through a variety of channels, including emails,Â video meetings, audio messages, and one-on-one calls.
Clear, consistent communication about what is known,Â what is still unknown, and the actions the organizationÂ is taking can reduce fear and anxiety and strengthenÂ morale and culture. Two-way communication is a greatÂ way to engage employees, so organizations shouldÂ encourage staff to raise questions and concerns with anÂ HR manager or another supervisor who can follow upÂ promptly.
3. Express empathy. Empathy is one of the essential HRÂ leadership skills, and this is the time to shine a lightÂ on the human side of HR. Through active listening,Â ongoing communication, and the right policies andÂ practices, HR can demonstrate the organizationâsÂ concern for employeesâ physical and emotional wellbeing,Â and guide them through the evolving challengesÂ and uncertainties. This includes, of course, encouragingÂ employees to use the various services, assistanceÂ programs and mental health resources available throughÂ the organization to help them deal with stress, anxiety,Â depression and other concerns brought on by theÂ coronavirus crisis.
4. Keep the right behaviors top of mind. The pandemic isÂ also underscoring HRâs role in reinforcing organizationalÂ values, principles, and culture. During these stressfulÂ times and with employees working from home, peopleÂ are more likely to let their guard down, and thatâsÂ understandable as long as comments and behaviorsÂ donât cross the line. The Equal Employment OpportunityÂ Commission (EEOC) has raised awareness of pandemic-relatedÂ discrimination and harassment based onÂ national origin and race. It also urges employers andÂ employees to âbe mindful of instances of harassment,Â intimidation, or discrimination in the workplace and toÂ take action to prevent or correct this behavior.â
5. Raise awareness of cyber security risks. Itâs becomingÂ a familiar story: Cyber criminals are taking advantageÂ of the pandemic and an increase in remote workers byÂ hijacking video conferences and launching phishingÂ attacks to trick people into sharing personal andÂ business information. Especially during this time whenÂ employees face many more distractions, providingÂ information security training can help protect sensitiveÂ data and raise awareness of cyber security risks andÂ scams, including those related to COVID-19.
6. Post resources. Keeping employees up to date withÂ the evolving guidelines and changes is an essentialÂ component of a return-to-work plan, and can helpÂ dispel myths and rumors about COVID-19. OfficialÂ online resources include the Centers for Disease ControlÂ and Prevention, the World Health Organization, theÂ Occupational Safety and Health Administration, andÂ state and territorial health departments.
Reopening businesses and bringing employees back toÂ the workplace during COVID-19 requires thoughtfulÂ preparation and planning, knowing that todayâs guidelinesÂ and information may be different from tomorrowâsÂ recommendations. For HR teams, this is an unprecedentedÂ opportunity to lead the transition back to work withÂ leadership, communication, empathy, and flexibility.
Andrew Rawson is chief learning officer of Traliant.