As many regions around Australia and the globe start to open up again, people will gradually begin to go back to working in their offices. However, for most companies, returning to work will not mean a return to normal, and most returning employees are going to experience a work environment that will differ in marked ways as a result.
COVID-19 has put businesses under enormous strain to drive new ways of working. When the pandemic began, many companies put their people’s health and safety at the center of their decision-making, followed by technology required to ramp up remote work and procedures and policies required for a workforce forced to work in isolation during a global pandemic.
With the recent announcement from government about the relaxing of lock down measures, business leaders need to now focus on what it will take to shift from crisis mode and prepare to ramp up their businesses.
With this in mind, there has been an increase in commentary online about the need for businesses to develop and initiate a return to work “playbook” as lockdown restrictions ease.
A plan that maintains safety, manages resources, creates new policies and procedures and rebuilds employee morale.
In a recent report by PWC, “COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey”, it researched how leaders were tackling financial impacts of COVID-19, how to plan for return to work, and changes likely to endure post-crisis. The results showed whilst leaders were concerned with shoring up financial positions, they were more focussed on how to orchestrate a safe return to the workplace, and how corporate leaders can place a renewed emphasis on environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts going forward.
Companies are looking to produce back-to-work playbooks which reshapes how jobs performed. 49% say remote work is here to stay for some roles, as companies plan to alternate crews and reconfigure worksites. In terms of safety, protecting people is top of mind, with 77% planning to change safety measures including employee testing, while 50% expect higher demand for enhanced sick leave and other policy protections.
Organisations are also beginning to realise that business recovery from the impacts of the virus will take a lot longer than first forecast. Currently 48% (trending up) believe it will take between 3 and 12 months to get back to a type of 'business as usual', and Technology, media and telecommunications companies are in the best position to power the recovery.
Other interesting results from the survey include :-
- 32% (trending up) believe lay-offs are around the corner
- 40% are looking to accelerate automation and new ways of working
- 65% are looking to reconfigure worksites to allow for physical distancing and 52% are considering shifts / crew rosters to reduce onsite numbers
Th term ‘business as usual’ may take on a different meaning post-pandemic. Over the last couple of months, we’ve learned that more people than we ever imagined can work remotely, but, to make this the norm in the future, those new technologies and ways of working will need to be adopted. Businesses will also need to make significant changes around health and safety in the workplace. How your business will look and function in this new environment depends on multiple factors.
Work as we know it may never be the same again.
So how does a business create a Back to Work Playbook. What are the essential items to include, and what is the best way to help move your company and your employees forward successfully and ease the transition back to work.
Below are essential considerations to ensure a successful transition back to work.
1. Putting Safety First
Businesses will need to observe regulations governing social distancing, employee gatherings and hygiene practices. It’s likely that pre-virus working environments are unsuited to these new restrictions.
- Ensure the physical workplace is safe for employees to work in.
- Plan a staggered reintroduction to the office.
- Manage the number of employees in each space
- Develop new protocols for deep cleaning and sanitisation
- Develop a plan to address and help mitigate workplace illness
- Companies may also wish to consider establishing guidelines for the use of personal protective equipment, such as face masks and gloves, checking employees and visitors for fever before entering the workplace, and establishing rules governing when employees can return to work after recovering from infection.
2. Rebuild Workplace Morale
The human component of returning to office life requires as much focus as the practical one. Maintain a regular frequency of communication so as to provide reassurance to employees who will naturally have questions about the future of the business and their roles.
- Build empathic policies and culture and be sensitive to the situations your people face
- Plan work schedules with a people-first approach
- Focus on the well-being of your people
3. Update Policies and Procedures and review technology and infrastructure needs
For most businesses, the nature of how we work has changed. Businesses will need to rethink facilities and technology and consider how and where people work.
- Review all current policies and procedures and update them to fit current best practices
- Adopt new strategies, tools, technologies and ways of collaborating and communicating for the future.
- Evaluate your real estate footprint. The shutdowns showed many companies that they can work virtually better than they thought. Determine who needs to return to the workplace and those roles that allow remote work as a more permanent option
- Solidify how you will enhance processes that have been successful whilst in lockdown using new technologies
- Plan for and execute and missing investments for must-haves that have been identified during lockdown
Remember that training is essential to adopting any new policies and guidelines.
Return to work programs are essential for businesses to develop. Taking these considerations in mind when developing a plan for transitioning back into office life will help ensure it is a fruitful return – not a fragile one.
Flexibility, honest communication and adherence to best practices will help ease the transition as employees adapt to the “new normal” back at the office.