It’s not too early to think about how you’ll communicate the eventual transition back to the office. (And just when everyone’s finally figured out Zoom meetings and how to dress business-on-top, cozy-below.)
Having so many employees suddenly working remotely was a major change, and now heading back to work on site will require another round of change management. As with any major change, employees want to be kept in the loop. Here are a few tips for what to tell them and when:
1. Start communicating now about the timetable.
Employees will need to prepare, emotionally and logistically, for the transition from home back to the office. Even if your executive leadership hasn’t yet landed on a specific date to transition back to the office, give employees a rough idea of what’s likely. Is it mid-May? Or could it be June? If the answer is it could be either one, it’s fine to say that the timeline is up in the air and dependent upon many variables. Just tell employees something, and remind them that this is not forever.
2. Explain how the company will protect and prioritize health and safety.
Employees will want to know that leadership has addressed the COVID-19 risk and put certain safety measures in place before they transition back to the office. Will employees be screened for temperatures and symptoms before they enter? Are you planning to stagger the workdays so some people work Monday and Wednesday and others on Tuesday and Thursday? Are you having the office treated with a weekly hydrostatic spraying to disinfect surfaces? Are you providing masks and gloves for employees?
As soon as you know what the plan for safety protocol will be, share those details with employees to help them feel more confident that they can safely return to your workplace.
3. Ask for employees’ concerns, questions and suggestions.
Employees will certainly have feelings about transitioning back to the workplace, and possibly some good ideas about how the company can make that transition successfully. Ask for their input, and have a plan in place to respond to what they share.
Realize also that employees will differ in how eager they are to transition back to the office. Those with children at home might be more than ready for a nice relaxing day at the office interacting with other adults, though they could have trouble finding or affording child care. Others might feel a little reluctant to see an end to the extended family time they’ve been enjoying.
Extroverts might be climbing the walls, desperate for some social interaction. Even introverts might find their days have become a bit lonely. On the other hand, they might be dreading getting back to the rush-hour commute.
Whatever you decide, make sure your plan takes into account the opinions, preferences and concerns of your employees. It won’t do any good to reopen your workplace before your employees feel comfortable getting back in the saddle.