How to transition back to work as we emerge from Covid-19…

As the government starts to look at options to ease lockdown, business offices, factories, and other buildings will begin to reopen, yet the threat of COVID-19 remains. Workplaces can’t return to their earlier selves – and may never do so.

So how can employers best manage the return-to-workplace transition? Early experience from Asia suggests transparency, flexibility and iteration are key in return to work plans — especially with the possibility of coronavirus infection rates increasing again. The key lesson seems to be keep things as simple as possible.

Here are some areas to consider as you develop your return to work plan.

1. Focus on the health and safety of employees

Health and safety are paramount. This means safeguards are a given, including masks, hand sanitizer, social distancing, and regular and ‘deep’ cleaning schedules for buildings and facilities. However, employees could equally be at risk when they commute, eat lunch or meet clients, so anticipate and respond proactively to such risks.

2. Leverage employee data to plan the reopening of facilities

Businesses in Asia are collecting and monitoring a variety of new employee data to inform their return to work plans. The do’s and don’ts of using employee data remain unchanged: Be candid and transparent in communicating with employees the details of what data is being collected — and why.

Use this data to inform your plans on quarantines and employee support. A wide range of data is available to pull from, including employee commute options, family composition, such as the presence of senior citizens and school-going children.

Also measure and monitor employee engagement levels, mindset and level of comfort regarding their return to the workplace, and continue to monitor once employees have returned.

3.  Stagger the workforce’s return

Most businesses are planning on returning employees to the workplace in phases. Business leaders should decide who returns based on a range of factors, from government guidance and the nature of work to employee preferences.

4.  Maintain frequent two-way communication

Leverage all regular top down communication channels – town halls, emails, intranets, etc – to communicate proactively and frequently with employees about return to work plans and the reasoning behind them. But also listen to employees. Create opportunities for manager employee one to ones and other channels to allow employees to express concerns freely.

5.  Integrate lockdown successes into your best practices

Covid-19 lockdowns have forced workplaces and workforces to adapt and evolve. But the crisis response has surfaced many highly productive behaviours and workarounds that can be integrated into everyday best practices once employees return to more traditional working environments.

Therefore, update best practices. Employees have proven they can be effective remotely, so capture processes and behaviours that have contributed to their productivity and formalise them into best practices for different teams.

6. Plan for a protracted period of disruption

“Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.” In other words, be prepared to react and respond repeatedly as the situation continues to develop. Business leaders in Asia say they have reopened their facilities only to close again amid spikes in coronavirus infection rates. Your return to work plans must be flexible to accommodate multiple lockdown cycles for the foreseeable future

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