By now, most employers have a plan in place to consider the post-COVID workplace and when employees will be returning to the office on a more routine basis. Employers who are considering bringing employees back to the office must be thoughtful and deliberate in order to balance the needs of the employee, the murky, ever changing nature of COVID, and what the new office environment will look like and feel like.
In parts one through three of our Re-entry series, we discussed focusing on the work environment to ensure it meets the needs of tomorrow’s workforce, engaging with employees to understand the opportunities and obstacles that exist when returning to the office and ensuring the right processes and procedures are in place. This month, we are highlighting the importance of COMMUNICATION. Be sure to utilize the Return to Work team that has been designated supports process review and enhancement as they should be closest to the environment, the work that needs to get done and the people.
Part 4 – COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE
“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
George Bernard Shaw
More important than ever is the need to communicate. Be sure that all employees, even those working remotely, have access to the same information and communication. Begin by creating a master communication plan that outlines the plan, provides FAQ (frequently asked questions) documents for both management and employees and illustrates the timeline to roll out the communication to all employees. This varies depending on the size and geographical dispersion of employees.
Begin with a leadership meeting to explain the plan, get feedback (if you have not already done so) and answer questions before meeting with the entire team. Next, use a Town Hall style meeting to introduce the plan to all employees. If employees are in different time zones or you employ shift workers, be sure to hold the session multiple times to engage with as many team members as possible. Then turn the plan over to management to reinforce and execute.
There are many fun ways management can engage employees to come back to the office. Where appropriate, bring employees together in the work environment for a Q&A session with leadership and to reacquaint one another. Host a luncheon or happy hour if that fits with the culture. Some companies have posted “now and then” boards (virtual and/or in the office) where employees can post pictures of their experiences in the past year top open dialogue. Photos of new babies, new puppies, lost loved ones, a quarantine ritual and the like help employees put the past year in the rearview mirror while honoring what the team has gone through.
The following tactical highlights are important to remember when communicating with the team:
- Establish the best communication platform for your employees – intranet, email, text, etc.
- Provide timely and regular updates on the reentry plan and progress. There are likely to be road bumps along the way…
- Detail all workplace guidelines and policies – especially regarding safety and cleaning/disinfecting, vaccinations, etc.
- Develop or reinforce exposure response communication plan. Many companies are following CDC or local health department guidelines with respect to travel, testing, and quarantining.
- Update technology systems to ensure all employees are able to work from home as needed and if practical.
- Create a work from home form for employees to request remote work.
There are numerous COVID sources available for your organization as you prepare for reentry into the workplace below:
- SHRM COVID Back to Work Checklist
- National Safety Council – S.A.F.E.R. (Safe Actions For Employee Returns)
- CDC – Returning to Work
- OSHA Guidance on Returning to Work
- Colorado Department of Labor and Employment – Return to Work Guidance for Workers
The best laid plans oftentimes fail in execution because of communication. A sincere focus on a strong communication plan is essential to success in returning to work. Next month we will dig into the health considerations employers must consider in return to work planning.
Stay tuned for Part 5 – next month where we will focus on communication for a smooth transition.