Let’s face it, when it comes to going back to work in the middle of a pandemic, one question still remains: should we even go back to business as usual? The short answer? We couldn’t even if we tried because what was once viewed as “business as usual” before the pandemic now poses a severe health threat. For example, open-floor plans, working near one another, buffet-style lunches, and meetings without masks are just a few of the business norms being reimagined given the current climate. While there is no going back to “business as usual,” there is a way to move forward. It starts with three ways to ensure your employees not only feel “physically safe,” but also “psychologically safe” as they transition back to work.
- Add more social distancing measures—surprise, surprise, right? With coronavirus cases back on the rise, social distancing isn’t going anywhere, and the truth is, your employees most likely won’t either unless you have a plan that allows them to safely distance. Depending on your company, it may be as simple as repurposing common areas so employees can spread out or turning that open-floor plan into a closed one with (wait for it) cubicles.
- Bring back employees in shifts—if social distancing isn’t an option at your company at the moment, having fewer people in one space is a great alternative to help your employees feel safer as they transition. In other words, trade-off when individual employees are in the office while others are working from home to lessen the chances of community spread.
- Stop neglecting the elephant in the room—encourage employees to talk about their personal life because whatever is going on their lives is most likely having an impact on their work-life, too. After all, feeling physically safe can only take you so far if you don’t feel “psychologically safe,” which is built on learning to trust the people with which you work. And nothing builds trust better than getting to know the people you collaborate with (like really know them). Activities can include anything from ice breakers to kick-off meetings or merely helping people think about the way their work and personal lives mesh together.
Of course, the best solution your company might be able to offer employees amid a pandemic is to normalize working from home, especially if employees don’t feel comfortable and/or safe. Naturally, normalizing new habits involves many things. For employees, it might mean having the option of more flexible hours if their kids are doing distance-learning again this fall. And for companies like yours, it might mean investing in new technologies, methodologies, and even home office equipment to make working from homework. Just make sure that you have a working agreement in place so that everyone’s on the same page about the values, norms, and expectations being set in place.