A lot has been written and hypothesised about the return to work. Let’s face it, there is a lot we don’t know yet. But there are some things we can be sure of:

People will be feeling apprehensive about returning to work and will be expecting their employer to have taken every precaution to keep them safe in the workplace.

Returning to work will need to be a beneficial and positive experience. The value of being back in the workplace needs to outweigh any perceived risk.

Social distancing measures mean that people may need to return to work on a rotational basis, in which case some sort of system will need to be developed to facilitate that.

 

Getting these three things right simultaneously will be a real challenge for businesses who will need to consider both the employee and business needs in the context of the overall experience.

To help you with this, here are some practical steps you can take right now, that will set you up for success for the return to work. 

Step 1: Do an audit of the employee experience in the workplace, looking at every ‘touchpoint’ through a covid-19 lens. We recommend putting yourself in the shoes of your most anxious employee as you do this, starting from the moment they arrive at the office, to the moment they leave. And make sure you think about the experience that those in different roles may have. Once you have identified all the touchpoints, (and there will be a few!), consider how you can physically mitigate the risks as much as possible. Leaving wipes and hand soap dispensers at busier touch points may be an option for now, but how viable is it in the long term? Is there another more innovative, more environmentally friendly solution that could be introduced instead?

Where social distancing is a challenge (for example, in the canteen or reception), are there practical things you can put in place to protect staff, like protective perspex screens? It’s often the simple things you do that will show your people you care.

Step 2: Identify what behavioural changes will minimise exposure and risk. Remember to consider and utilise the positive opportunities these new behaviours create – for example, a longer canteen queue due to social distancing provides increased space and visibility for positive and reassuring messaging.

Step 3: Determining what work benefits from physical togetherness versus what work doesn’t will be important in the upcoming weeks and months. This should be collated into a set of criteria or principles that can be applied to any role and will help to ensure the right people are in the workplace at the right time.

Step 4: Once all of these things have been determined, it is important to consider how you will communicate them to employees before they return to the workplace:

1. A re-integration guide could be produced to highlight the physical measures that have been taken as well as any key behavioural changes they need to be aware of. This could be in the form of a downloadable PDF, or a paper-based pocket guide.

2. An interactive VR experience could be developed to enable your people to walk through the various workspaces digitally, interacting with the new safety measures and living the new behaviours. This will give your people the knowledge and confidence to return in person when the time comes around.

3. A digital game or e-learning tool can be used to communicate the criteria for being back in the workplace – by developing a digital decision tree, you can empower your people to take ownership for their own workplace choices.

In addition to practical materials, leadership communication is critical to give employees the reassurance they need ahead of re-entering the workplace. Using video is a simple and effective way to make leadership comms a more personal and authentic experience.

Step 5: Once your people return to the workplace, consider the signage you could display at key touchpoints to give your people the information they need, when they need it. Clever use of language and tone plus thoughtful placement can help bring a smile to the face and ease some of the tension employees may be feeling. 

Step 6: Lastly, ensure you set up a feedback mechanism where your people can go to for support and questions. An accessible FAQ document may also help to ensure information being shared is accurate and consistent. 

 

In a world of unprecedented uncertainty, taking these six practical and pro-active steps will not only ensure a better workplace re-integration experience for your people but will foster imaginative “what if” thinking; the kind of thinking that will prove invaluable as we begin to navigate new territories in the world of work.

A practical guide for returning to work