We are all very immersed in supporting our companies and families during this global pandemic. With this comes a new set of challenges, that we don’t normally see as business continuity professionals, but are well within our skillset and should be brought forth to the appropriate areas of leadership. The goal is to ensure continuity of operations, or organizational resilience.
I would like to take a different approach to continuity, one that will hopefully become extremely relevant, soon: Employee comfort and security first, operational adjustments second.
There are going to be complex challenges that need to be planned for and addressed. They do not relate to technology, but instead to our most important assets: our employees. Our focus needs to shift from business process to people and that will start with Human Resources.
But how do we go about re-assimilating employees into the workforce and what questions will need to be proactively addressed?
1. The first one that comes to mind is what are they afraid of? The fear may be of still getting infected, or a possible reinfection, as was stated with China. It’s important to mitigate that fear as quickly as possible by making sure employees understand the measures being taken to ensure a clean and safe work environment.
- Outline specific seating arrangements, building in extra space between employees.
- Regulate how many people can be in the office at one time.
- Publish the cleaning requirements that any cleaners are required to follow.
- Don’t force employees to come into the office before they are ready.
2. The second question is most likely the most popular one we will see. If employees have been working just fine at home, why do they have to come back into the office at all? Employees may be reluctant or unable to return to work for any number of reasons. It’s important to give your team flexibility and understand that just because your office is re-opening does not mean their spouse’s office is re-opening, or that their children’s school or daycare is re-opening. (Rest assured there will be those that more than welcome the return to some normalcy and the chance to get away from their children.)
- Schedule time to discuss a return to work plan with each employee. Make sure they know that you are there to help and allow them to continue working at home if it’s better for them.
- Expectations and guidelines for those working at home, including work setup, childcare requirements, security guidelines, and connectivity needs should be either updated, or for a lot of companies, put in place.
- If certain employees must be in the office for any reason, stagger the days or hours they are coming in so that not everyone is there at the same time.
- Don’t be afraid to let employees go back to working from home if they find that returning to the office just isn’t working for them.
3. The third question I want to address is around money issues. How do we help employees who have come upon hard times financially? Even though they are still working for your company, other members of their immediate family may be out of work. Conversations around money are some of the most uncomfortable conversations to have.
- Consider that some employees may no longer have a car or reliable transportation, so letting them continue to work from home may be necessary.
- FMLA and exhausted PTO time should also be looked at carefully and adjusted.
- Look into financial education resources that you can offer to your employees so they can learn ways to cope with what they are going through.
Major life transitions can bring about anxiety, fear, apprehension, dread, and unease. Humans experience the most comfort when they have a sense of routine and normalcy. We are now faced with a new “normal,” so we must come up with a new routine. That’s why the return to work should be gradual for most employees. The new normalcy should be considered, and a plan enabled to address this. Reintegrating an employee who has been long absent can be difficult, but you can ease the experience by having a clear process in place.
- Consider companywide webinars for updates, starting NOW. Make it a regular town hall with leadership facilitating. Offer the option for anonymous questions to be submitted for filtering and review.
- Start from the top down. Bring Senior Leadership in first to get acclimated and on the same page.
- Next, schedule and invite the next layer of management in. Address the plan and have them communicate it out.
- Recognize the challenges faced by employees in returning to work; parenting, being a caregiver, illness, relationships, and work are all challenging by themselves. When you start layering these demands with a change, things can seem overwhelming and impossible.
- Offer mental health support to your team. This can make a huge difference BEFORE asking them to return.
- If possible, do not start on a Monday. The first week or two can feel overwhelming. When you manage a two- or three-day week, after regrouping on the weekend, the next week should feel easier.
- Stagger employees, bringing them in gradually. Post a schedule where everyone can access it so it’s clear who will be in on any given day.
- Have leadership welcome them back in person if possible.
- Ensure that time is allocated during the day to promote (safe) socialization.
- Find reasons to celebrate employees. Birthdays, promotions, life events, or other reasons. Focusing on the things that we once celebrated together will make things start to feel more normal.
- Expect unscheduled leaves during the day, day of call outs, or last-minute requests to work from home due to family situations and fall out from pandemic. Make sure to include exceptions in your new policies.
- Be wary of resentment for those able to continue to work from Home. Having a clear updated policy and well-defined roles will help address this. Transparency is key.
Your team can and will get through this stage, just like they worked through the beginnings of the pandemic. Knowing they have people at your company who care about and support them will ensure that they can return to work with less anxiety and apprehension. Remember, your people are your most important asset. Make sure they know it!