COVID-19 is an unusual crisis and complicated for employers and leaders to navigate. It is distinct from other devastating situations like shootings, terrorist attacks, tornados, hurricanes or fire in that this particular “disaster” is fluid and present for a prolonged period. It isn’t a singular event that occurs and quickly concludes. But like all disasters, it affects people: human beings who are wired to react to immediate threats in three key psychological ways – flight, fight and/or freeze. Significant research indicates the negative effects on the minds of people living in a constant state of immense stress. At a minimum, their work and focus suffers. While we can’t make COVID-19 go away, we can do things organizationally to reduce the stress our employees experience, particularly as they migrate back into the office to work. Consider the following key re-entry strategies as you develop a plan for bringing employees back:
- Proactive Outreach – Communication is critical and a two-way street. A strong communication strategy should have a consistent tone and message, and convey unity no matter who is delivering the message. Empathy should inform the table stakes of any re-entry communication strategy and drive inclusion of statements to inspire connection, trust, accountability and compassion. Consider drawing on the company’s values or guiding principles. Invite dialogue. Create an email address for people to send questions to and make suggestions. Read and consider each question and suggestion carefully.
- Empower and Develop Leaders – Leaders should lead by example, but leaders also need support. Train everyone so they know processes, basic employment laws and ways to support their colleagues at the organizational, market and team level. Everyone can lead from where they are.
- Reimagine – Now is the time to think differently about how you work. What changes could you implement to increase productivity and time management? How can you be a better colleague, business advisor and person? This has affected all of us in different ways. Take the lessons you are learning and create positive change.
- The Golden Rule – Your colleagues are adults. Treat team members as the professionals they are, but maintain your expectation for them to behave as such. That includes monitoring and managing one’s own health, physically and mentally. Maintain the expectations to stay home when one doesn’t feel well, monitor one’s health while in the office and communicate with a supervisor if a COVID-19 test is positive.
- Practice Patience – If your colleagues are parents, their lives will be complicated with school closures and potential lack of summer camps and care for children. Reinforce flexibility when at all possible. Remind employees of your Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) if your organization offers one.
- Be Helpful – Part of the ongoing complication of this crisis is around how people can safely get to and from work. Consider ways to minimize public transportation use for employees until the virus is more under control. Can you create ride shares or other creative ways of helping people get to work? Are there other barriers to re-entry that can be addressed with temporary workarounds?
- Consistency – As more employees return to the office, it is important to have frequent and deliberate communication with those who continue to work remotely. Develop ways to communicate between and among in-office and remote individuals and teams.
- Self-Compassion – Give yourself a break. You are on an adventure of ambiguity and there is no end in sight. Be proud of everything you have learned and reflect on your ability to change the way you work in an instant. Bravo!
Please visit our COVID-19 Toolkit for all of Taft’s updates on the coronavirus.