Everyone is anxious to return to normal even though nobody knows what “normal” will look like in six months, or even a year. How will restaurants welcome patrons? How will schools function? How will offices operate when employees are allowed to return? For all of us it’s a puzzle we’re in the middle of figuring out, trying to fit pre-covid life into a post-covid world.
For the average small business, and large corporation for that matter, how to return from a pandemic isn’t covered in your company manual. There are no best practices for this. Hidden beneath the uncertainty, however, is a tremendous opportunity for each organization to define their new normal.
Communicate with Your Team
If there is one thing we’ve learned while staying at home, it’s that each person and family has unique challenges and perspectives. Some people are enjoying family time, while others are lonely and isolated. Some can’t get back to the office fast enough, while others are still extremely apprehensive.
The only way to understand the needs and concerns of your team is to communicate and gather as much information as possible. Build on the new forms of communication that you’ve established during the crisis, integrate it into a re-entry plan, don’t jump right back into business as usual.
Have group and one-on-one conversations. Send surveys. During the slow down maybe a team member has given a great deal of thought to improving a product or a manager has a new marketing strategy or there’s a work from home new technology that has increased productivity. Make communication an ongoing effort, listen to your teams and ensure the changes you implement are working.
Help Your Team Stay Healthy
The vast majority of people who we’ve lost to COVID-19 had chronic illnesses that make it more difficult for the body to fight off diseases. The New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies (NJAMHAA) recommends providing employees with resources that enable them to take better care of themselves. This will reduce the risk of serious health issues, reduce the number of absences, and help your team stay focused. May happens to be Mental Health Awareness month. There has never been a more important time than the current circumstances to shine the light on improving and maintaining mental health.
Encourage employees to take full lunch breaks. Encourage exercise, whether they walk the dog, go for a bike ride, or take a yoga class. Encourage well visits with doctors and allow telehealth from the office. Provide self-care information, from healthy recipes to stress reduction to getting a better night’s sleep. Reward employees who take steps to improve their health. NJAMHAA has assembled a free, valuable collection of resources and information for both employers and employees.
Important Factors to Consider
Safety is the top priority. Federal and State governments will advise on new regulations that might be required to re-open, but what additional changes should you consider? Should you reconfigure your office to allow for safe distancing? Is it possible to stagger shifts? Speak with your cleaning service to implement stricter sanitization and disinfection methods. Would it make sense to investigate contactless entry technologies? Some organizations may need increased precautions such as taking employees’ temperatures and requiring masks.
There are new HR factors to consider as well. You’ll need to post the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) poster in a visible place. For those employees who will remain working from home, send updates via email or create a company intraweb or employee website. Consult with your HR firm or Director for additional guidance. This ‘Return to Work Checklist’ is a great place to start.
Flexibility is Critical
Even though the economy is slowly ‘turning back on’ understand that some of your employees are still facing struggles and challenges. Schools may not re-open, kids could still be at home, summer camps may have been canceled, a partner or spouse may have lost their job. The level of disruption is unprecedented.
If you have the systems in place to enable seamless communication and secure, immediate access to data and applications, then decide if certain employees can work from home permanently, either part-time or full-time. Allow work-from-home arrangements based in part on the preferences of each individual employee.
The coronavirus pandemic should finally put an end to measuring performance based on time in the office. As results and outcomes are emphasized, consider the steps can you take to motivate employees, set realistic expectations, and maintain accountability.
People want to work for and with organizations that care about them. Your response to the varying needs of your team, the new normal you create, and the culture you build will ultimately define the perceptions of your company among your team and your customers.
The key is to make people feel not just safe, but comfortable. Focus on earning the trust and confidence of people who rely on your company. Show empathy. Be transparent. Maintain open lines of communication. Show you care about your team’s well-being.
Take advantage of this opportunity to identify a new normal that works for your team, your customers, and your organization as a whole. When you do reopen and regain a sense of normalcy, you’ll probably be in a stronger position than you ever thought possible.