Return to Work Planning – Involve Your People

For many people, the first step towards a sense of normalcy after the COVID-19 outbreak will be returning to the workplace, but for others the thought of leaving their homes is anxiety-inducing.  There are also people who have thrived at home and are not ready to give up all that reclaimed time they spent commuting.  

All of us are sitting on a spectrum of risk tolerance and adaptability.  So how do employers create the perfect return to work plan that will satisfy everyone?  Let’s face it, they just can’t.  Your plan is not going to make everyone feel 100% safe about returning to work.  People are responsible for their own feelings – we can influence them, but we certainly can’t control them.  So, if making all our employees feel safe is not the goal of the return to work plan, what is the goal?  The answer does not lie in the plan itself, but in how you create it.

The goal is to Build Trust.  Trust in you, trust in each other, trust in the process and as an outcome: trust in the plan.  This is the time to omit the words “buy-in” from your vocabulary.  No one wants to “buy in” to your plan, they want to be invited to the table.

Planning is a great way to engage your people and make them part of the solution.  Engagement will give them some sense of control and reduce their anxiety.  Here are some tips on how to create a return to work plan your people will trust:

  1. Invite people to the table.  Create a diverse team to help you write the plan.  Ask yourself:  who has the capabilities and information I need to write this plan?  Who needs to be represented? 
  2. Provide as much transparency as possible throughout the process with people outside your planning group.  Isolation creates more anxiety than too much engagement and too much communication.
  3. Resist the urge to do the thinking for others.  In a stressful situation, we often default to a command and control style of leadership.  You have good people working for you – what ideas do they have?  What scenarios have they been thinking about?
  4. Ask hard questions.  What are people afraid of?  What do we have control over?  What don’t we have control over?  What do they think they are responsible for?  What do they think you are responsible for?

Here is a framework you can use for your planning discussions.  Make it your own by adding the Issues and Considerations that are right for you.  Determining what you aim to achieve first is important because it focuses thinking and grounds debate. 

Items Considerations What are we tying to achieve What options are available to us?
Workplace Layout How will our people maintain physical distancing in both private, and common areas? How will people move throughout the workplace (including meeting rooms, kitchen areas, washrooms?)    
Workplace Access How will people (employees, contractors, couriers, vendors, customers/clients, visitors) access the workplace? What will be required of them?    
Phased Return to Work Who must return immediately? Who may be called-back gradually? What personal circumstances should be considered (childcare, commuting, high-risk individuals)? What changes to work hours should be considered?    
Communication & New Procedures What stakeholders need to know about our return to work plan? How will we communicate? What new policies/procedures need to be created and implemented? In particular what will change about the way we respond to illness?    
Hygiene and Cleaning What is the employer providing? What is expected of the employee?    
Contingency Planning How will we respond to future workplace disruptions/shutdowns?    

We have heard the phrase:  Never let a good crisis go to waste throughout this pandemic.  Creating that daunting return to work plan is not something you have to do alone.  It can be an opportunity to strengthen trust, connection, and engagement with your people.  Being able to this well is quickly becoming more important than ever.

Have questions? We have answers.

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