Six best practices to consider before reopening.
By Andrew Rawson
“Many organizations are now focusing on when and how to reopen, and what changes to make before employees return to the physical workplace. It’s a complicated process that involves many steps, from implementing health and safety guidelines to making employees feel as comfortable as possible navigating a changing work environment. While every organization is different, here are six things to consider when preparing employees for some of the adjustments they may expect in their day-to-day interactions and operations.
1. Create a return-to-work plan. A return-to-work plan should be as detailed as possible, keeping in mind that there will be regular updates and revisions. Some areas to consider include preparing for a new normal, health and safety protocols and policies, physical distancing, personal protective equipment, the role of managers, and an easy-to-read FAQ sheet. Providing return-to-work training and communication prior to employees going back to the workplace can help individuals adjust physically and emotionally, and reassure them of the steps the organization is taking to keep everyone safe, healthy, and productive.
2. Increase communication. In a recent SHRM survey of more than 2,200 HR professionals, 65 percent of respondents said maintaining employee morale during COVID-19 has been a challenge. At a time when employees are looking for reassurance, support, and leadership, organizations should ramp up their efforts to communicate often and honestly. This should be done through a variety of channels, including emails, video meetings, audio messages, and one-on-one calls.
Clear, consistent communication about what is known, what is still unknown, and the actions the organization is taking can reduce fear and anxiety and strengthen morale and culture. Two-way communication is a great way to engage employees, so organizations should encourage staff to raise questions and concerns with an HR manager or another supervisor who can follow up promptly.
3. Express empathy. Empathy is one of the essential HR leadership skills, and this is the time to shine a light on the human side of HR. Through active listening, ongoing communication, and the right policies and practices, HR can demonstrate the organization’s concern for employees’ physical and emotional wellbeing, and guide them through the evolving challenges and uncertainties. This includes, of course, encouraging employees to use the various services, assistance programs and mental health resources available through the organization to help them deal with stress, anxiety, depression and other concerns brought on by the coronavirus crisis.
4. Keep the right behaviors top of mind. The pandemic is also underscoring HR’s role in reinforcing organizational values, principles, and culture. During these stressful times and with employees working from home, people are more likely to let their guard down, and that’s understandable as long as comments and behaviors don’t cross the line. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has raised awareness of pandemic-related discrimination and harassment based on national origin and race. It also urges employers and employees to “be mindful of instances of harassment, intimidation, or discrimination in the workplace and to take action to prevent or correct this behavior.”
5. Raise awareness of cyber security risks. It’s becoming a familiar story: Cyber criminals are taking advantage of the pandemic and an increase in remote workers by hijacking video conferences and launching phishing attacks to trick people into sharing personal and business information. Especially during this time when employees face many more distractions, providing information security training can help protect sensitive data and raise awareness of cyber security risks and scams, including those related to COVID-19.
6. Post resources. Keeping employees up to date with the evolving guidelines and changes is an essential component of a return-to-work plan, and can help dispel myths and rumors about COVID-19. Official online resources include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and state and territorial health departments.
Reopening businesses and bringing employees back to the workplace during COVID-19 requires thoughtful preparation and planning, knowing that today’s guidelines and information may be different from tomorrow’s recommendations. For HR teams, this is an unprecedented opportunity to lead the transition back to work with leadership, communication, empathy, and flexibility.
Andrew Rawson is chief learning officer of Traliant.”