All aboard, again: Reboarding your people and adapting to cultural change

Happy employees returning to office for reboarding exercise

Business leaders, HR teams, and people managers undoubtedly have a lot to consider when looking at return to work policies and procedures. Between assessing what to keep, what to change, and what to do away with — time and resources are at a premium these days for the busy professionals tasked with these projects. And with all those priorities, it’s easy to overlook many things that are important to your people in a post-pandemic world.

But despite the busy nature of everyday work, let’s not forget something that is quite important and is often overlooked: after this past extraordinary year, there's an entire workforce of millions that must be onboarded again upon their return to the office.

There’s a term for this, and it’s called reboarding. The good news is if you’re in HR or involved with hiring you’ve likely done it before, just in a different way. There are many important steps to remember when reboarding employees, which we'll go over in this article. But first, let's start with a definition.


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What is reboarding?

Day one of a new job brings about many opportunities for employers and employees alike to start off on the right foot in terms of employee experience. Getting the onboarding process right leads to many positive outcomes, including better engagement, more productivity, and quicker adoption of company culture.

We think of onboarding as the beginning of employment, but forward-thinking organizations are continually onboarding employees, no matter how long they have been with the company. By utilizing tools that provide feedback to managers regarding employee sentiment, companies can remain aware of the pulse of the organization.

We know the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a massive (and necessary) shift in how work is performed, and millions of people that have been working remotely for more than a year will soon be — or have already been — asked to return to the office. Reboarding is another term for repeating the onboarding process in these sort of situations. It involves bringing employees back to the company when conditions have significantly changed. When you reboard employees, you touch base on things that are different from what employees might have been used to.

And my, how conditions have changed!

As office spaces open again, Human Resources and business leaders must also open their minds to new strategies to ensure that employees not only remain engaged and productive, but also feel safe from a physical and psychological perspective.

This makes getting reboarding right even more vital to ensure a successful return to the office. What are some ways that we can make a smooth transition back to work in a traditional physical office space when many employees have become accustomed to working remotely?

Let’s explore three steps companies can take to ensure reboarding goes as successfully as possible. To make it easy to remember, we’ll call these steps the PET method of reboarding. After all, who doesn't love pets?

Plan for culture change upon returning to the office

It’s not often in business that we can guarantee there will be a marked shift in company culture, but the pandemic and the circumstances surrounding it have not only forced businesses to change and adjust their culture, but society at large has changed as well. Think about it: we have now become conditioned to wear masks in public, to stay six feet apart, and to not shake hands. Cultural change in general has been abundant.

Haphazardly asking employees to return to an office environment that surely looks much different from the one they left in or around March 2020 is not the way to go to ensure a good employee experience. Deliberately planning a phased and comfortable return to the office will help ensure less stress and reluctance with employees who might still be feeling uneasy about returning to the physical office.

If we look hard enough, we can find some silver linings when it comes to returning to work. The fact that companies likely know well in advance when the return to office date will be allows for HR and business leaders to plan for reboarding in a very deliberate way. To improve your workforce, now is a great time to reflect on things that worked well and didn’t work so well prior to the pandemic disruption. It’s also prudent to reflect on what did or didn’t work well during the disruption.

Having a plan will be vital to ensure reboarding starts off well. There are many processes leaders can focus on when creating a plan, but among the most important are awareness surrounding new policies and procedures, the layout of the office, meeting spaces and measures to ensure safety during meetings, and employee interactions.

Execute the plan

Having a plan is step one, but step two is ensuring the plan you worked hard to create is executed and carried out. Doing so will help create trust among the stakeholders in the organization. But just how can you be sure the plan is executed as intended?

First, ensure that company communication is up to the challenge of executing a reboarding plan. Do you have several ways to communicate important messages to employees? How do you know if messages have been received? Make sure there are metrics attached to communication initiatives to ensure success.

Next, make sure that you follow up with stakeholders on how the plan execution is going. Are there areas where employees are struggling? Have rules and regulations changed work requirements in ways that would alter the reboarding plan? Asking pertinent questions like these (and many more) will help guarantee that execution of the plan is effective.

Use technology to train employees continuously

Let’s not forget the importance of technology in the PET philosophy. Choosing your tech options for people and payroll processes randomly will not serve the reboarding plan well. Having an intentionally and thoughtfully implemented HR tech suite that puts people first and is easy to use via any platform will ensure that employees know they have the tools they need for success during reboarding and beyond. This helps ensure a positive employee experience, as well as a positive life-work journey.

After reboarding has been planned and executed, a dedicated training program fueled by technology can also ensure long term success. Having touchpoints along the way where employees can be refreshed on policies and procedures that may have recently been put in place furthers communication strategies and eliminates ambiguity when it comes to what rules need to be followed to ensure compliance.

Conclusion: You can reap the rewards of reboarding

It’s important to remember that reboarding is not a one-time endeavor. Reboarding is a slow process that must be carefully laid out and planned. And don’t forget to acknowledge those people who might have been working at the office all along. They will need reboarding help too, as their once sparse office space will become full of people again.

The benefits of taking time now to ensure reboarding plans are in place are plenty. Successful reboarding will work to bring employees who have been away for some time back to your company’s values, goals, and mission. They’ll feel cared for by company leadership who took the time to ensure a good transition back to work. By taking an empathetic, deliberate, and people-centered approach to reboarding, you can ensure business continuity, better outcomes, and better employee engagement while capitalizing on all that you've learned in the pandemic to drive future success.

By using the PET method of reboarding, you can ensure you are hitting the mark on all phases of your reboarding strategy. It’s a win for both the company and employees alike.

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