This spring has been an interesting and challenging time to be a business leader. As the workplace location, habits, and culture across the board have been turned inside out, leaders have had to think differently.
Returning to the workplace
While the move to working from home happened quickly, the return to work will be slower and more complicated. If you haven't made movement back to workspaces and office buildings, think carefully about all of the implications of our new six-feet-apart world. How will you handle an employee who refuses to wear a mask when required? When will you open the kitchens and make coffee and water available? How many people will you allow in a restroom at a time? Do people have to walk clockwise around the space? Where do you put hand sanitizer stations? Setting aside all of the logistics, how do and will employees feel?
Tips for employee return-to-workplace communication
Like any other workplace change, making sure employees are aware and understand this new world will be equally as important as the actual changes themselves. Training, education, and effective communication are key aspects of many of the local requirements for returning to office buildings. Required or not in your area, they should be your top priority in the process of returning employees to any common workplace, in any location. As you begin to think through your employee communication strategy, below are a number of tips to keep in mind as you communicate return-to-workplace situations. We recommend working in partnership with a trained consultant and your legal counsel to ensure that you meet the requirements for your location (if any) and so that your employees recognize you take their health and safety seriously and understand what is expected of them.
- Start with developing a clear and detailed safe work plan; review any policies that need to be updated
- Write in plain, easy-to-understand language
- Use images and diagrams where appropriate
- Outline what the building management is doing, how the company is supporting this effort, and clear expectations for employees
- Partner with Human Resources and legal counsel; they can help you steer clear of perceptions of discrimination and other potential employee relations or legal issues
- Get input from your senior leaders; they should be knowledgeable and included well before you communicate to employees
- Train your managers and supervisors on the safe workplan and what is expected of them; they are the front line of employee communications
- Use different media to supplement a written plan; hold a webinar and record it; create a video; leverage your online employee portal; do a podcast
- Make good use of signs throughout the office to help with key behaviors
- Be clear where employees should go with questions
- Start communicating well before individuals are allowed (or expected) to return to the workplace
- Explain that the situation is fluid and manage expectations by noting that when new information becomes available the plan will be updated; communicate those key changes with leadership and employees
Careful not to overdo it
Especially now, employees want to understand what you are doing to keep them safe and to believe that you care. But you don't want to overdo it either. Whether it's due to a lack of trust or excess worry, some organizations are holding many more meetings than usual to "check-in," which employees can find invasive and intrusive. If "eyes on your employees" was your primary form of performance evaluation, you might be feeling unsettled in this new work-from-home arrangement. In most situations, you've likely hired responsible, talented people who want to, and will, do good jobs under any circumstance. Trust they will and reward them when they do. Tip: Let them dictate the check-in frequency. Be willing to tailor your approach to the communication needs of the individual(s) or group(s). Then, over time, survey your employees and ask them how it's working (the frequency, content, etc. of the communications).
Wherever you are along this journey, just don't forget employees' needs have shifted and will likely continue to change. Be flexible and willing to adjust your communication approach constantly. As you prepare for the next phase, whatever that might be for you, look for that Goldilocks communication approach--not too much, not too little, but just right.