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Jul 07, 2020

Approx. 12 min. read

Back to Work Guide: How to Ensure Your Employees’ Safety and Productivity

Employers across the world are getting ready to prepare their employees to get back to work. They are putting together new safety guidelines,...

Back to work: the complete guide

Employers across the world are getting ready to prepare their employees to get back to work. They are putting together new safety guidelines, regulations and internal communications initiatives to ensure a safe return to work. 

According to research, 87% of employers say they have put in place measures to ensure that people feel supported in their workplaces. Now, when employees have started returning to work, they have to continue to provide such support and make sure that employees are aligned with the new guidelines and best practices. 

In this blog, you will learn more about how to plan and implement a successful back to work strategy. 

📚Download our eBook "10 Principles of Modern Employee Communications" and learn how to communicate with the modern employee in today's digital age.

Why Back to Work Planning Is Important 

More and more businesses are requiring their employees to go back to work. Therefore, back to work planning is essential for employers to adjust to the new ways of working and mitigate the negative consequences this crisis is having on business operations. 

Even though some companies won’t fundamentally change their business strategy as a result of COVID-19, most of them will have to make significant adjustments regarding how they manage work and Human Capital

There are so many new things employers need to consider and assess before employees come back to the offices: 

back-to-work-planWhen preparing and planning for back to work, you should focus on these core questions:

  • How can leadership teams make the company stronger and more resilient? 
  • How can we ensure that our employees stay safe, healthy and productive?
  • How can we help them adjust to the "new normal"?

Back to Work Readiness Assessment for Employers

When preparing a back to work strategy, employers shouldn’t focus only on the immediate and short-term recovery phase, but also on the actions they need to take to build the workplace of the future.

In other words, organizations need to have a well-set business continuity plan and strategy around how to align the entire workplace with that strategy. 

Some of the considerations employers should keep in mind when building their back to work plan include:

  • How to effectively communicate prior to and during the return phase?
  • How to manage whether there is a need for new or additional training and information for people returning to work?
  • How to support good mental health where there may be increased general anxiety due to COVID-19?
  • How will social distancing measures be addressed in offices and other workplace areas?
  • What kind of cleaning protocols will be used? 
  • What kind of instructions and trainings will be provided to ensure that the new cleaning and hygiene guidelines are applied?

Performing such assessment is crucial because not many employees feel safe about returning to work

back-to-work-employees-opinions

12 Ways to Ease Your Employees’ Return to Work

It is not easy to prepare your employees to get back to work while protecting their safety and ensuring high productivity levels. There are a lot of different aspects to consider, and many different teams and departments need to be involved in the planning process. However, the sooner you start planning the next steps, the more prepared your employees will be. 

In the following few paragraphs, you will learn more about what it takes to create an efficient back to work strategy. 

You can also check out this great example of a comprehensive “Return to Work Playbook” that Tesla has prepared for its employees. 

1. Develop the “back to work” business continuity plan

Mitigating risk as employees are returning to work requires new policies and personal behavioral changes. Today, employers are working heavily on updating their existing health and safety risk assessments and internal procedures in order to systematically assess any risks of infection in the workplace. 

back-to-work-business-continuityWhether employers have prepared a back to work plan has a direct impact on their ability to effectively adjust to the post-COVID-19 working environment. 

Here are some useful questions to consider when creating your back to work plan:

  1. What consequences did the crisis have on our business?
  2. What are the expected future consequences?
  3. What changes does the business need to make to ensure continuity planning?
  4. How will the business respond to the upcoming economic crisis?
  5. How can we make sure we keep our employees safe and engaged at all times?
  6. Is the business ready and able to be more agile and adapt to virtual workplaces?
  7. How will the business embrace change in the near future?
  8. Does the business have a solid plan to address a possible second wave of COVID-19 or any other pandemics?

2. Create a proper communication plan to build internal awareness

Your back to work plan means nothing if you don’t have a clear plan and strategy to communicate it to the entire workplace in a way that is inspiring, motivating and engaging. Keeping people informed of what your business is doing will give them some degree of security in very uncertain times. 

However, it can be extremely hard, especially within large organizations, to get employees’ buy-in and support, to adapt to change and to align them with the new business initiatives and recommendations. This can only be achieved when internal communication becomes the main priority. 

For that reason, we are finally witnessing employers putting much more efforts into improving communication in their workplaces. When it comes to designing a return to office plan, experts in business communications are now considered the most important strategic business partners. 

back-to-work-employee-safety

3. Team up with various departments from your organization

Ensuring a safe return to work is not a one-man job. Various departments should join their forces to build a comprehensive and efficient plan. The departments that should get involved in your return to work plan include:

  • Internal Communications — Ensuring that the right information finds the right employees at the right time, and that employees continuously feel informed about the important updates and regulations. 
  • Crisis Management — Making sure that the impact of the crisis is well-understood and that there is a strategy around how to mitigate the consequences of the crisis and prepare for the potential future disasters. 
  • Change Management — Aligning the entire workplace with the new changes and initiatives that the company is taking in order to better adapt to change. 
  • Digital Transformation — Facilitating the implementation of the new technology solutions that support remote work and ease employees’ return to work. 
  • Leadership — Communicating in an authentic way, being empathetic, providing support and being role models for the entire workplace. 
  • Management — Staying connected with their teams and making sure that employees’ health, wellbeing and productivity are not disrupted. 

4. Maintain an open dialogue with workers and support the culture of open and inclusive communications

Your employees can make important contributions when assessing risks and identifying new solutions. Yet, they are often not considered as important stakeholders when it comes to mitigating risks and driving change in the workplace.

Instead of leaving your employees out of this process, engage them and give them opportunity to participate and contribute with their own ideas. To do so, make sure that the solutions you're using for your internal communication allow you to create open dialogs in the workplace as it's one of the best ways to make communications easy and transparent

However, don’t take this as an advice to plan for short-term back to work strategy. Indeed, building an open and transparent communication in the workplace is critical when it comes to creating a positive employee experience in the workplace. 

employee-motivation-listening-1During this crisis, social distancing had a big impact on our employees’ social lives. That means that your back to work strategy should encourage social collaboration and allow teams to connect with one another, whether your employees are working at the office or remotely.

5. Keep everyone informed with relevant information

If done well, your back to work plan should help you answer the following question:

“How will we continuously ensure that all of our employees are well informed and that they have easy access to all important documents, communications and updates?”

Even though many still don’t have a clear answer to that question, it is inevitable that the employers need to secure the right flow of information within the workplace. 

However, many of you probably already know how hard it is to achieve such a thing. Unfortunately, many employers still don’t have a way to personalize and better target their internal communication efforts in order to catch their employees’ attention and make sure that the important information never gets lost

With so many communication tools being used in organizations, it can be very challenging to make communication relevant, and to better understand what channels to use in order to ensure that the information is actually consumed. 

corporate-communication-challenge-2

6. Keep all the important documentation and communication in one place

When your employees get back to work, you need to make sure that they have all the important information, documents, policies, procedures and guidelines in one place. If not, the chances that employees never find and read the content your team has produced are very high. 

Back to work: key stats to knowThis challenge is not only related to this crisis. Messy communication and lack of a centralized communication platform can be a big productivity blocker for many employees. 

This is even more obvious now when employees have much more information to consume and comply with on a daily basis. 

7. Regularly share safety tips and remind your employees to follow the new guidelines

As mentioned earlier, employers need to continuously remind their employees to follow new company's return to work plans and procedures. 

Your internal communication should include topics such as what the symptoms are, how employees can protect themselves, current restrictions, travel bans, as well as the importance behind physical distancing. 

Again, this information has to be read by your employees in order to have a positive impact on how well they're able to adjust to the new working environment. 

For example, why not creating a communication channel devoted to information around new regulations and safety tips? If you have a technology that enables you to do that, make it open to everyone and encourage employees to comment, like and share their own ideas and suggestions for improvement. 

Such collaborative efforts may not only create new brilliant ideas, but it will also create stronger connections among your teams and drive social collaboration in the workplace. What's more, communicating the practical measures you are taking on a regular basis will help reassure your employees that their wellbeing and safety are your top priority. As a consequence, there will be much more trust in the workplace. 

back-to-work-workplace-trust

8. Educate your employees on how to stay productive while working from home

Even though employees are gradually returning to the office in most companies, that doesn't mean they won't be working from home in the near future.

Indeed, most experts agree that remote work is here to stay. Most businesses noticed the positive impacts remote work had on their employees' productivity during the lockdown and they are rethinking the work arrangements they are offering to their employees.

While some companies are planning to allow their employees to work from home one to two days a week, other businesses are planning to let a part of their workforce work from home permanently. Indeed, a Gartner survey revealed that 74% of the surveyed companies plan to permanently shift to more remote work post-COVID-19.

Since remote work is here to stay, you need to help your employees embrace this new way of working. Share advice on how they can preserve their own mental and physical health while working from home. For example, you could advise your employees to keep a regular work schedule, set up a designated space to work, take breaks, set boundaries between private and professional, stay connected with friends, families and colleagues through online communication tools to prevent feelings of isolation and loneliness.

But do you have a way to easily segment your internal audience and send personalized messages to your remote, deskless and in-office teams? Many organizations don’t, and they are experiencing difficulties in making information and communication personal and relevant to their employees. 

9. Monitor and share the requirements and recommendations issued by trusted authorities 

One part of your back to work strategy should be to eliminate the information overload in the workplace. We all are acing an extensive inflow of information regarding the important health and safety regulations, but we often don’t know how credible those sources are. 

To ensure safe and productive return to work, employers first need to filter all this information and share only the one that comes from the most trusted sources. Sharing too much information can be overwhelming, so you should encourage your workers to limit media consumption as continuous exposure to news, media, and social media may trigger or elevate anxiety, stress, or panic. It is better to stay informed by just a few, authoritative resources such as a national health agency or the WHO.

Luckily, there are software solutions like Smarp that enable employers to automatically import information from selected sources while eliminating manual tasks and preventing information overload. 

10. Create a culture of compassionate leadership and management 

Ultimately, returning to work is a moment of truth for leaders. The key here is to build trust in the workplace. For employees, trust starts with both being safe and feeling safe, and it is the leaders’ and managers’ job to create such a feeling of safety in the workplace. 

Leaders can empower their frontline managers to deal with local issues as they arise. This requires that employees get the training, support and information they need to embrace, maintain and self-enforce safe behavior at all times. 

interpersonal-leadership-communicationManagers and employees from different departments and locations should join their forces by developing feedback loops that will enable them to quickly deliver best practices from one location to the rest of the organization. 

Organizations can’t work in silos, and they have to make sure that cross-functional employee communication and collaboration is easy and efficient. Line managers should be equipped with the necessary skills, information and technology necessary to have ongoing conversations with their teams no matter where they are located.

11. Implement the right technology

One of the most important back to work initiatives should be to create virtual working environments that have been emerging due to the shift to remote work.

Research shows that while almost 98% of employers are conducting regular communication to keep all employees updated and engaged, only 85% of them have implemented a virtual or social engagement initiative.

back-to-remote workNo matter if your employees are getting back to work or still working remotely, they need to have a way to, with the right technology, stay connected with each other. This is exactly why this year will be remembered as the year of implementation of modern workplace communication solutions. 

12. Start an Employee Wellbeing Program

Before this crisis, employee wellbeing was not employers’ top priority. Today, it is probably the most common topic within workplaces across the globe. Some employers have already implemented new wellbeing programs and initiatives, and we are expecting the majority of them to have one in the near future. 

📙 Learn more about how to launch a successful Employee Wellbeing Program

Back to Work Resources for Employers

Earlier, we mentioned the importance of reducing information overload in the workplace. When your employees get back to work, they may feel overwhelmed and confused, so you need to make sure not to distract them with too much information especially if it doesn’t come from trusted sources. 

Here are a few credible sources that will help you better plan your back to work strategy and equip your workplace with relevant and useful information:

Remember, proper employee communications is crucial for a successful return to work. If you are looking for a modern, mobile-first employee communication solution, schedule a Smarp demo to find out more about how it can help you align your workforce, keep it informed and safe. 

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Written by

Kristina Martic

Kristina Martic

Digital Marketing and Employer Branding

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