On April 16, 2020, the federal government released guidelines on “Opening Up America Again” to help governors make decisions on when to lift shelter-in-place orders for employers and individuals across their states. Here in the state of Ohio, we have been on lockdown since March 23, 2020 – which will expire on May 1, 2020.
States across America and countries across the world are grappling with the effects of shutting down economies to prioritize the health and safety of their people. Although we do not know when life will return to a “new normal,” we can begin to prepare our teams and workplaces for an eventual return to in-person work.
So, what exactly should leaders do now to ease the transition back to the office? On April 28, 2020, I sat down with three HR leaders to discuss ideas leaders and managers should consider to ease the transition back to their workplaces. Here’s what they recommend:
- Do what you can to reduce uncertainty. Regularly communicate new information and decisions to your team at your earliest convenience. Be prepared to answer their questions or seek more information.
- Be patient. If you’re not a decision maker within your organization, let your employer be the leader. Communicate what you know when you know it with your team, but reinforce the importance of practicing patience to allow more data to inform decisions during this time.
- Survey your organization. Get a pulse of your team’s or organization’s expectations and needs for transitioning back to the workplace by launching a survey or hosting focus groups. Gather feedback and let those ideas inform your return-to-work strategies.
- Individually connect with your employees. Check in with your team to understand their concerns with transitioning back to the workplace. Document individual concerns and share them with your HR team to ensure you make accommodations when appropriate.
- Create remote learning opportunities. Prepare for the transition back to in-office work by sharing online resources for your team to address new in-person work expectations or policies, establish new technology policies or resources, provide mental health support and more.
At the organizational level, decision makers should be actively considering the longer-term effects of COVID-19 and preparing their organizations to:
- Adapt HR policies to set expectations around remote work, articulating communication protocols and outlining “professional” behaviors in the virtual world.
- Engage in workforce planning to ensure their workforce will have the right skills at the right time to meet labor demands as the economy grows.
- Develop succession plans to prepare for leader turnover that will result from the pandemic.
Arguably, the most difficult transition — returning to in-person work and establishing new workplace norms — is yet to come. My conversation with these HR experts concluded with a reminder for all individuals, leaders, managers and decision makers in organizations: Culture is something we create.
No matter our role, we all play a part in creating and enforcing our workplace culture. Although our culture will continue to change as we move from remote to hybrid or fully in-person work, we all help ensure it is positive, productive and embodies the values of the organization.