Having just conducted the deployment of entire workforces to remote working, business owners are now faced with the challenge of returning to the office whilst striking the balance of keeping staff safe and the organization running.
The process of shifting from remote working to office working is a big task for businesses and its vital that, as organizations make that transition, they don’t adopt a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. The new role of care in the post-pandemic workplace needs to encompass a greater level of flexibility and support than it did before.
Whilst some people have had enough of home working and are itching to get back into the office, the prospect of returning to work will be daunting for others. This new norm will be different for everyone, and there’ll be staff that still have children to home school, some that are worried about travelling on public transport, and others with concerns around the levels of hygiene in the office. So, carrying out risk assessments and making the working environment safe will be a top priority for business leaders.
Risk assessments around mental health need to be factored in too. Caring about your team’s mental health not only supports their wellbeing, but it will improve overall productivity and engagement, both of which are essential right now. Having a return to work strategy that encompasses safety, hygiene, and mental wellbeing will build confidence in your new working environment.
Where does HR come into the equation?
HR will play a key role in driving forward new ways of working whilst bringing staff back on board with different rules and structures. As we continue to adapt to each phase of the coronavirus crisis, companies might find they need to revise everything from flexible benefits and job descriptions through to mental health support.
This is new territory for the workforce. We’ve never experienced anything like this, so there will be challenges and bumps in the road as we adjust to the change. And of course, there will be obstacles that HR and business owners might not be prepared for.
Trust and confidence are important during uncertain times, so if you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it, do some research, and figure out a response. Also look to building contingency into your operations as this will help teams react to changing demands and regulations.
After three months away, HR teams will want to gauge people’s personal circumstances and challenges. Are they living at home with someone vulnerable? How safe is their commute? Do they have underlying health conditions? Undertaking a company-wide audit will give you an insight into staff comfort levels and will inform decision-making going forward.
Change creates uncertainty and fear, and this in turn causes stress and anxiety. Minimizing there stressors at work will go a long way in supporting employees. People will be feeling mentally fragile, therefore proactively addressing staff worries will help put them at ease with all the change.
For that reason, it’s essential that companies ensure their employees feel supported and that there’s no pressure to return back to the office if they don’t feel comfortable. Drawing on previous good practice will boost resilience, and having in place a framework on how to reduce stressors will give staff some practical tools and strategies to help them adjust. Now more than ever, there needs to be a commitment to resources to boost your employees’ energy, motivation and morale so that they can return to work more mentally agile and hit the ground running.
During any crisis, communication is also key. Your communications should be calm, confident and clear. This will make staff feel safe and assured. 1-2-1 staff meetings with a key focus on health, safety, and wellbeing will allow managers to have sensitive, open discussions around any adjustments and modifications to job descriptions. Transparency, clarity, and empathy will reassure employees that every effort has been made to make it a safe environment for them.
Any new policies, processes and procedures should be clearly communicated so people understand how to keep themselves, their colleagues, and their clients safe. Make sure everyone is clear about the rules they should follow both in the workplace and at home, especially if they begin to feel unwell. Returning staff will require a re-orientation or re-induction session to emphasize that their wellbeing is a top priority and to be certain that expectations are being managed.
Employees will want to know the initial steps businesses have put in place to safeguard them, but it will be crucial that there is a road-map that steers them throughout the rest of the crisis. By showing staff that you are prepared for the future, you’ll show them that their future is with your business.
Anji McGrandles is the founder of workplace wellbeing consultancy, The Mind Tribe. For support on your workplace wellbeing strategy and training please contact [email protected]