Five Issues to Consider before Returning Employees to the Workplace

According to researchers from Morgan Stanley, about half of the US workforce could be back at work this summer. However, the reality is that things will not go back to business-as-usual for quite some time—and many experts predict that varied levels of social distancing may remain in place until 2021.

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As you get your business back on track from the COVID-19 disruption, consider how you will bring your people back to the workplace safely.

To be successful, businesses will need to find ways to navigate new realities in a post-coronavirus world.

Focus on addressing these five important issues with implications for the health, happiness, and productivity of your workforce.

Keep your Virtual Doors Open when Physical Doors Aren’t

If your business was able to continue operations by working remotely, you’ll need to consider your path forward in terms of keeping workers remote or bringing them back to the office. In a recent Glassdoor and Harris Poll survey, 67% of employees said they would support the decision by their employer to mandate employees to work from home indefinitely. And while half of those employees believe they will be equally or more productive working from home, the other half don’t share their confidence.

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Working from home isn’t for everyone and many people were thrown into this situation without proper equipment, training, or preparation. Everyone’s been doing the best they can, but now employees need clear communication about what to expect going forward. As phone calls and video chats replace in-person communications, team meetings and one-on-one chats become more important than ever. Be supportive and survey your people about what challenges they’re facing in home offices. Guide them to follow established best practices for remote workers such as respecting work schedules, setting clear expectations, and responding to questions promptly.

Be Transparent in Virtual Recruiting, Hiring, and Rehiring 

One of your first considerations will be making sure you have the right people to restart your business operations. Will you need to rehire workers you laid off, recruit new people, or bring back furloughed employees? If you’re rehiring workers or recalling them from furlough, you’ll need transparent communication to help them understand their terms of employment, any changes to old policies after furlough or separation, and new policies regarding leave and workplace safety.

Your business may have to shift rapidly back to remote work if additional COVID-19 hotspots break out in your area. So it makes sense to adapt as many people management processes as you can to work for both remote and on-location employees. Now is the time to create an entirely virtual recruiting, interviewing, and hiring process if you didn’t have one before.

There’s no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted recruiting and hiring as we’ve known it. Stay flexible; the new status quo may force you to limit your geographic search, fill more positions with internal hires, or focus on meeting interim needs with gig workers for a while. As interviews go online, you’ll have to brainstorm new ways to determine if candidates will fit in and meet your needs.

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Make Real Connections through Virtual Onboarding

Virtual onboarding will be another important experience for employers to create. Getting this right will help new employees feel like part of the team quickly, even if they work predominantly from home. To develop a remote onboarding program, you can create recorded videos, interactive online sessions, or conduct one-on-one training using a web conferencing platform. Ideally, your program would be a mix of these. Don’t forget to include some social activities like virtual coffee breaks to help new employees get to know coworkers and feel connected.

Put Workers First by Implementing Flexible and Supportive Policies when Possible

When employees return to the workplace, keeping them safe and healthy is your first duty as an employer. If employees feel unsafe or scared, they will be less engaged and productive. Some employees may care for elderly parents or have medically vulnerable family members. Remain flexible and accommodative wherever you can. Let employees know they can talk to you about their concerns and communicate frequently about the steps your business takes to keep them safe and healthy. Doing right by your people today will foster long-term good will and loyalty.

The CDC recommends considering the following to maintain continuity of business operations:

  • Implement flexible sick leave policies and maintain consistency with public health guidance.
  • Include provisions for emergency sick leave in the event of future outbreaks.
  • Establish methods to ensure workers are healthy when returning to work that comply with health recommendations and workplace laws.
  • Consider cross-training employees to perform essential functions in case key employees are absent for long periods of time.
  • Provide assistance and resources to employees who may need it in these difficult times.

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Ensure the Physical Safety of your Workplace

When you call employees back to the workplace, it’s your responsibility to create a safe work environment. Follow current CDC and OSHA guidelines to keep your physical workplace sanitary and safe. Business owners and HR staff should communicate with landlords and other facilities management personnel to implement better building ventilation and cleaning standards. It will be critical to communicate new safety measures and provide ongoing education and reinforcement of good hygiene to ensure workers stay safe. Help employees maintain social distancing through:

  • Supporting telework.
  • Offering  staggered work schedules and shifts for on-site workers.
  • Changing office and point-of-sale layouts to increase distance between individuals.
  • Encouraging noncontact greeting methods.

Opportunities Abound for Companies that get this Right

Work will look different as business leaders and employees transition into the “new normal” over the coming months. Going forward, businesses have a real opportunity to enhance their reputations by taking good care of employees. Your workforce, your community and even potential future employees are watching. Take this chance to establish your brand as a company that cares.

CDCCoronavirusCOVID-19hiring and recruitmentrecruitment and onboardingRemote Workvirtual recruitingWork from home
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