Key steps before returning to office life

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By Doug Claffey, Energage

Employee feedback plays a vital role in any return-to-work plan. The first thing leaders need to do – before any transition plan is communicated to the staff – is to gather employee feedback via a short, targeted survey. This provides the critical data needed to help inform a successful plan.

Think of the return-to-work transition plan in three phases:

  1. Planning input: Human resources, a tiger team, or a combination of both develop a plan to return to the workplace.
  2. Post-decision: Make sure your plan is clear and is without missing spots before you begin to execute.
  3. Post-return: Assess the transition, how it went, where there are hotspots, and what went well.

From the start, it’s important to capture employee feedback while you are formulating your plan. There are two critical factors to consider:

  • Who is at risk? Know how many of your employees are at a higher risk of serious complications from COVID. Also, be aware of how many employees are caregivers for people who have complications for COVID. Employees that are immunocompromised or have breathing challenges are in a higher risk category.
  • Who has childcare challenges? Childcare is one of the biggest pressure points we’ve seen. Employees who are caregivers to school-aged children, particularly in the 5- to 10-year-old range, require a lot of time and attention. Schools, camps and other care settings are probably not an option.

Focus your attention on three key topics as you begin your transition:

  1. Productivity: Are people going to be more productive as they come into the office?
  2. Emotions: What emotions are people feeling? These can range from fear to excitement.
  3. Logistics: What are the who, what, and how logistics of returning to the workplace.

If employees are fearful of contracting COVID, the way they perceive the workplace is going to be different than others. There’s a very good chance this will create drama throughout your organization. But if you can get out ahead of that, you can really save yourself a headache and also be more productive when you’re making this transition.

Lastly, this is the new reality. Be deliberate. Be thoughtful. Make your employees feel like they’re part of the planning process and that their input matters. And after you’ve communicated the plan and started the rollout, continue to collect their feedback so they feel valued and heard. This is extremely important. Because if you don’t put a lot of thought into it, your business will suffer a significant impact.

Doug Claffey is founder of Energage, a Philadelphia-based research and consulting firm that surveyed more than 2 million employees at more than 7,000 organizations in 2019. Nominate your company as a Top Workplace at amny.com/nominate.

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