As we count the days down when the government-imposed restrictions are eased, and businesses are allowed to reopen, employers should at this point prepare a strategic plan to facilitate the returning to work of employees.
Developing a return to work plan is crucial since many of the working patterns may need to be changed as a result of the pandemic. And while many employees may be wanting to return to work, some may feel hesitant because of health and safety concerns. Thus, a well-thought-out, comprehensive return to work plan needs to be developed.
Return to work strategies post COVID-19
Businesses should establish a team that will be in charge of the development, implementation, and monitoring of the return to work plan. An external advisor may also be considered to get additional guidance in matters of health and legal compliance.
Back-to-work plans may include the following considerations:
- Determine the workforce you need and if you will implement a phased approach
- Determine when and how to notify your employees about returning to work
- Determine how jobs be performed (full–time, part-time, remote, office-based, shifting schedules)
- Screen employees to determine if they are safe to return to work
- Implement guidelines for identifying and isolating workers suspected of contracting COVID-19
- Reconfigure the workspace
- Implement hygiene protocols and workplace controls.
Things will not be the same
Post COVID-19, things will never be the same in the workplace. Currently, many employees have been working from home as a result of the restrictions imposed by governments worldwide. And as a way to keep the coronavirus outbreak in check, this work option will likely continue after restrictions have been lifted.
Apart from remote working, businesses may also consider including rotating schedules in order to implement social distancing in the workplace. While many of the employees will still be working in the office, meetings and company events will be a mix of virtual and face-to-face interactions. Teleconferencing and telemedicine may have been in existence for years, but after restrictions are eased, forms of remote communications such as these are seen to become more dominant.
Interacting with customers and prospects will likely shift away from the traditional face-to-face and more towards online platforms like video calls, chat, social media, and phone calls. This particular change, though, will probably be more appreciated rather than frowned upon as they are seen to be more efficient than spending time to travel and meet in person.
Many businesses may also move towards a paperless working environment, particularly on the accounting side of the business. As such, companies may consider transferring their accounting and other critical business processes to online portals not only as a way of maintaining social distancing but also to minimise disruption in the event of another crisis.
Moving back to an office environment
Keeping employees engaged and productive post-COVID-19 will be more challenging for team managers as employees adjust to the new normal.
The mental and physical well-being of team members should be of paramount importance. Lines of communication should be kept open to allow employees to express concerns, anxieties, and worries about the new work environment.
Lastly, empowering employees in making decisions will make a difference in boosting their morale. It is a way of letting them know that you trust them and also a way of helping them become more responsible, better problem solvers, and resilient, especially in times of crisis.
The disruptive coronavirus pandemic has exposed many gaps in many companies’ business continuity plans. There were no playbooks available to guide businesses in handling and managing the impact of the health crisis.
The lessons learned during the onslaught of the coronavirus outbreak are now the guiding force that drives changes in the workplace. While things will never be the same, the new work environment that is now more health and safety conscious will benefit both businesses and employees long after the coronavirus threat has disappeared.