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Even if your organization isn’t operating at full capacity, it makes sense to start having conversations about what employee “re-entry” into the workplace will look like. That way, when the organization is ready, there will be a plan in place.
Organizations will not want to simply tell employees, “Starting Monday, we expect employees to report to the office.” In some organizations, employees have been out of the office in excess of 10-12 weeks. Employees haven’t forgotten about the workplace during that time, but it would be nice to give them some reminders of the formal and informal office environment. Think of it like a mini-onboarding process where employees get time to become reacquainted with a new routine. Because when it’s time for their re-entry, they will not be simply returning to the pre-COVID days. Here are a few things to consider:
Create a Welcome Back Committee
This group can include representatives from HR, legal, risk, facilities, operations, IT, accounting, and others depending on your operation. This group will be responsible for monitoring what’s happening in terms of reopening/relaxing of state and local restrictions, but they can work together to make sure all the proper safety and wellbeing precautions are in place.
Develop Internal Protocols
Speaking of safety and wellbeing precautions, organizations need to take this time to develop policies and guidelines for personal protective equipment (PPE), employee temperature taking, internal contact tracing, workplace distancing, cleaning procedures, updated workplace signage, and more. HR departments can work with legal and risk management to make sure the workplace is safe for everyone.
Think About a Preboarding Component
Organizations often use preboarding to stay in touch with candidates before they become new hires. Maybe we can use this time to communicate with employees before their re-entry. Have the CEO send out a video welcoming everyone back to the workplace. Draft FAQs for employees on what to expect when they arrive including everything from face coverings to physical distancing to what’s happening with the employee breakroom (i.e. free coffee, the community refrigerator, etc.).
Give Employees Time to Catch-Up With Each Other
At some point, the organization will have to rigidly enforce punctuality and minimizing hanging around the water cooler, but the first few days or week probably isn’t the right time. Encourage employees to catch-up with each other. Maybe create a game out of having employees talk about what they did during quarantine and sheltering-in-place (SIP). This isn’t just a feel-good activity. It’s re-establishing camaraderie and the company culture.
Plan One-on-Ones to Reset Goals
Once employees have reconnected with the rest of them team. It’s time to focus on work. Managers might start some of these conversations while employees are still at home, but ultimately, they will want to talk about what projects have been completed during SIP and the ones that will be priority moving forward. Also, take time to recognize employees for their flexibility and productivity during this time. This hasn’t been easy for anyone.
Talk About a Plan B
None of us know what’s going to happen in the weeks and months to come. Managers can regularly check-in with employees about the things that are going well and what the organization could do differently should they need to shelter in place or work remotely again. The welcome back committee can gather these responses and use them to put together a business continuity plan. Hopefully they never need to use it but, if necessary, they have it.
Keep Lines of Communication Open
During new hire onboarding, we encourage employees to tell us their ideas and their concerns. We remind new hires to ask questions. As employees re-enter the workplace, the organization should tell employees all of the same things. Make sure employees know that their safety and wellbeing is a priority. Communication is an essential part of that plan.
Traditional onboarding programs are designed to help employees feel welcome and become productive. We can use those principles to design a mini-onboarding process for employees re-entering the workplace. That way, when the organization is ready, there’s a proven plan to welcome employees and resume productivity in the workplace.