The ‘new norm’ will look different for all businesses across the globe. Whether it’s a complete return to office for an entire workforce, a portion of the workforce, or more of a flexible, iterative approach decided by the individual on a weekly basis, one thing is certain - to navigate this next critical phase safely and sensitively, all workplaces will require a formal transition plan. A robust COVID-Safe workplace transition plan involves careful planning and close consideration of the varied circumstances of your people. To support leaders in shaping their transition plans, we’ve tabled 5 key areas to think about.
1. How SAFE is your ‘COVID-Safe’ plan?
Businesses are now required to regularly review and update their COVID-Safe plan in line with public health advice and changes to restrictions. Implementing an effective return to office strategy requires easing your workforce into a ‘new normal’, e.g. introducing staggered shifts.
Employers may even like to consider returning certain teams to the office ahead of others. A phased or alternating approach may reduce anxiety among staff, compared to an immediate return to 5-days in the office, surrounded by a full staff.
2. Time for a MENTAL HEALTH check?
Employers need to have a clear understanding of the mental health support mechanisms in place for their people. Now more than ever, employers need to play a protective role in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of their people; with resources readily available both in the office and when working remotely.
While all employees contribute to a mentally healthy workplace, employers must foremost demonstrate leadership in this area - providing staff with 24/7 ‘mental helpdesks’ such as employee assistance programs (EAPs), or other high-quality mental health resources, whether they be internal or external (e.g. Lifeline, BeyondBlue). Awareness about these valuable services requires ongoing communication throughout the organisation, ideally in tandem with internal initiatives to promote optimal mental wellbeing among staff. Prevention is better than cure!
Changes to working arrangements can also impact team dynamics, especially as employees shift from secure solo remote working set ups, to busier new conditions. Employers must support their people through this transition with sensitivity and patience. Noting each employee will have a unique change threshold and anxieties particular to their circumstance, leaders must tread carefully, and avoid rushing the process. Team and one-on-one catch ups should be encouraged - these serve as important forums for employees to socialise their needs, concerns and ideas through this new chapter.
3. ENGAGE before you rearrange
Engaging staff early, and often, about their personal circumstances and work-home-productivity rhythms and preferences is paramount. Understanding individual circumstances will allow leaders to design a customised return to office experience, ensuring critical employee concerns and working needs are met. Organisations should aim to establish a regular communication cadence with staff to ensure new changes and updates are integrated and understood as they evolve over time. Regular one-on-ones and team meetings should be set up to discuss expectations around returning to the office, with a view to achieving ‘sweet spots’ where business needs meet employee preferences. To learn more about employees’ preferences and concerns about remote work, plus insights on how companies can evolve for remote work, be sure to check out our key takeaways from Atlassian’s 2020 global remote work study in Flexible Work: Here to Stay, But Have You Nailed the Formula?
4. CLEAR is KIND
As they say, assumption is the mother of all stuff-ups - never assume your entire workforce is singing from the same hymn sheet. Ongoing efforts must be made to ensure important messages are aligned and shared through standardised communication channels. Achieving an optimal ‘new norm’ will require continuous, considered communication of critical information. For instance - the number of people who can work in the office at any one time, the use of meeting rooms and shared staff spaces, parties responsible for monitoring safety, how breaches or concerns can be raised. Critical updates must be communicated clearly, early and regularly through agreed channels to ensure the narrative remains consistent and builds trust. Sending regular updates via email, through the intranet and / or social media channels and regular team meetings are all examples of utilising effective communication channels.
5. WH&S at all times
As more of us move from #WFH and back to the worksite, there has never been a better time to review and refresh internal Workplace Health and Safety policies and procedures. Workplaces must ensure they are complying with new COVID-related standards, revisit safe work practice inductions or update sessions as required to re-engage employees in their transition to new working conditions. Hosting Health and Safety refresher briefings is a great place to start – an opportunity to remind employees about existing procedures and educate them on new policies too.
We’re with you all the way
To learn how Honan can further support your business, please reach out at any time.
Grace Rod – Client Executive
Sharon Rutherford – Head of Risk Consulting
Jules Paolino - Workplace Risk Consultant