As businesses are gearing up to return to the office by adopting the “New Normal” way of working, the transition, however is likely to be slow, uneven and cautious as employers will have to navigate through continued fear of employees, adhere to new public health norms and most of all the possibility of the second wave of the coronavirus. Therefore, while resuming, employers will need to redesign their workplaces and policies to protect the employee’s health.
Here are 5 things you should keep in mind to ease the transition for the employees:
Develop a communication strategy about the planned return:
Regular communication with your team is essential. Keep everyone abreast of actions that have been taken to reduce the risks of exposure to COVID-19 at the workplace. Set out the timeline; explain the safety plan, identify steps taken to date, and provide remote training to employees and managers on returning to work expectations and procedures. It will be beneficial if you can organise a re-orientation or re-induction process for all the employees. Remind everyone about the employee assistance programmes and other benefits offered by the company.
Leverage employee data to plan the reopening of facilities:
Be transparent in communicating with employees that personal data is being collected — and why. Lean on cross-functional relationships, especially with legal and IT, to create secure data collection platforms and make sure the data collected is permissible by law. It is essential to keep this information - employee health metrics; location and travel history; commute options; family composition, such as the presence of senior citizens and school-going children; and recent interactions with COVID-19 patients handy. It will give you a fair idea about the potential risks involved in reopening.
Integrate technology to maintain social distancing:
Technology can play a crucial role in monitoring social distancing within office premises. As nonessential businesses reopen at limited capacities, people can count on technology as the ideal way to ensure occupancy thresholds and prevent overcrowding in highly containment areas. Companies can even invest in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to monitor the distance maintained between two individuals. The AI tools can flag warnings in real-time when the expected distance is not maintained. Also basis this data, there is a huge potential for corporates to look at rationalizing office workspace considering the acceptance of the new reality of “work from home” for employees for a major part of the week (not more than 30%). Technology can enable teams to decide when to come to the office and be able to use the facilities effectively. At other times, they can continue to work remotely through technology collaboration tools and platforms to ensure business continuity at all times and also to be effective.
Support Employee’s Mental Health:
Self-isolation and staying quarantined during the pandemic may affect employees’ mental health. It may also increase the feeling of stress, anxiety or depression. When you reopen offices, you may have to look at creating a mental health support group/forum for employees to share their feelings and interesting lockdown stories. There has to be prominent, visible policies and actions that need to be conceptualized besides reviewing the existing people policies to prepare the company in handling the new issues that may be encountered.
After a few months of work from home, employees are likely to have adopted home office routine. However, going back to commuting, daily morning alarms and having less flexible work hours might be discomforting. Giving up on remote working will be one of the biggest challenges. To ease the transition:
- Be flexible with working hours and focus on outcomes with technology to track performances.
- Provide employees with productivity enabler tools to get them to build a new routine that focuses on work-life balance.
- Evaluate the possibility of letting the employees work remotely for longer or introduce a prescribed number of days for work from office (WFO). We all have realized in these times that working from home can increase productive time
The most important goal of returning to work after COVID-19 is to get employees back to work with minimal interruption and smoothness. We can accomplish this by making the office safe and feel as normal as possible. Encourage socializing while practising social distancing. Flexibility, seamless communication and adherence to best and safe practices will help employees adopt the “new normal” when back at office.