After We Prevail: Plan for Re-entry to New Normal Operations

April 16, 2020

With most companies transitioning to a work-from-home (WFH) environment, HR leaders – all people managers for that matter – continue to work through the day-to-day challenges of managing remote workers.  Finding a reasonable balance between productivity, quality, and overall performance in an environment not intended for remote work remains an ongoing challenge.

HR leaders and people managers are discovering that some individuals need added coaching, while others only need the occasional check-in. The one thing that leaders are learning is that there is no such thing as over-communicating. Communication these days goes far beyond the nuts and bolts of completing tasks or effectively managing projects toward on-time completion. Communication can take forms such as speech, social media, emails, inter and intranet posts, training, non-verbal clues, and modeling. 

We are nearly one month into physical distancing and developing a rhythm of work in this new environment. Now is the time to begin planning for the future. Leaders must start planning for reentry, not because it will happen soon, but because when COVID-19 is behind us or diminished enough to reduce the threat, we are prepared. We had very little time to establish preventative measures to prepare for the disruption caused by stay-at-home orders. Now is our opportunity to lead by demonstrating our vision and the ability to plan for various contingencies.

Planning Demonstrates Respect

Planning now will ensure you can think through all the logistics, are able to effectively manage reactions, reaction, and have a strategy for possibly missing something. Engaging your people to be a part of reentry planning before reentry, and troubleshooting, once reentry begins, will make them a part of the solution and less likely to complain about any missing details.

There are two teams with separate functions that will lead the organization through the process, the Planning Team, and the Implementation Team.  The Planning team assesses the situation, determines the needs, and develops the plans for reentry.  They may also develop alternate plans for all contingencies that may arise.  The Implementation team will lead and direct reentry activities according to the plans. There may be some, though limited, the overlap of team members.

The Planning team should include members from executive management, Human Resources, Communications or marketing, and each department. This team will help review the plan from all angles and draft the message for clarity and sensitivity.

There are enumerable things to consider well before we can begin to bring staff back to the workplace. It is critical to plan how to comply with the General Duty that requires all companies to provide a safe workplace in which we have feasible methods to correct or reduce any threat that may cause death or serious physical harm.

There are a number of significant considerations as we begin planning for reentry into the workplace. Begin by analyzing when, who, what and how for every segment of the organization. The list below may spark a brainstorm or ignite you to hold a brainstorming session with your team.

  • Workspace: cleaning or disinfecting workspaces, ensuring the proper level of physical distancing within the workspace
  • People: screening individuals before allowing them into the workspace, providing personal protective equipment (PPE) for those who may not feel comfortable without it
  • Positions: prioritizing positions that must reenter the workspace first, positions that could/should phase in and related timing, positions that may remain remote and for how long
  • Logistics: verifying facilities, utilities, and IT equipment needed to work are operational,; prepositioning cleaning supplies, PPE, office supplies, office equipment; ensuring outsourced office services as well as food and beverage services are available.
  • Procedures: developing procedures for reopening the office, restarting equipment (manuals available), cautioning of safety issues, requesting for tools or equipment, utilizing a decision tree for accommodations

OSHA published this pamphlet to assist:  Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19.

Working with people on reentry will require lots of thoughtful consideration. Workforce anxieties and personal challenges are likely to persist, even after health experts and government officials determine that the level of risk has diminished enough to permit re-entry. Planning can help you think through many scenarios and prepare leaders to respond respectfully and compassionately. This list will help you begin to brainstorm some concerns people may have as they prepare for reentry.

  • Feelings of uncertainty about safety, job security, how to transition to new ways of doing business, looking for a sense of normalcy
  • Accommodations for those who need to stay out of the workspace based on their medical conditions or that of a member of their household
  • Accommodations for caretakers of children while schools are closed or for elders who cannot safely care for themselves
  • Grief for those who may have succumbed to the disease, those who lost their jobs, or a sense of loss over how things once were
  • Transitioning back to professional wardrobe and schedule, including commuting

Implementation Begins with Training

The Implementation team members must be agile and have the authority to make decisions while clearly and promptly communicating needed plan adjustments. The Implementation team will consist of individuals from each department or functional area, and at least one member of the executive team. Depending on the size and structure of your organization, the team may include someone from IT, HR, purchasing and accounting. The leader of the Implementation team will work as a project manager. Departmental or functional area members will manage the people and operational activities within their areas. As issues arise, members from IT, HR, purchasing and accounting will be available to support as needed.

Implementation of the plan should follow a flow that begins long before the reentry. Begin by communicating with the Implementation team. This team will need to understand the details and how each of their roles will work together. This team is critical to the success of the plan.

The Implementation team must be knowledgeable of reentry plan as well as the operations, and personnel of their functional area.   They must be able to clearly communicate and adapt; emotional intelligence is a crucial competency. The Implementation team will need to be trained and be able to train the people managers throughout the organization.

Train leaders and people managers to:

  • Listen to their employees’ concerns and give them tools to help with their people issues
  • Use the accommodations decision tree to help, but not lose sight of the individual’s interactive process
  • Train their staff members on how the reentry process will begin and individual roles
  • Utilize available resources: such as EAP, testing, PPE, thermometers, moving companies to help rearrange cubicles

Leaders and people managers must train their staffs on:

  • Procedures for reentry,
  • How to obtain resources,
  • How to notify management of their concerns, and
  • Demonstrating sensitivity and respect for their coworkers, avoiding prejudgment of others for their fears or concerns. There may be underlying conditions that coworkers do not choose to share and are not obligated to share except to their HR or management representative.

Now more than ever, planning will have a direct impact on the success of your transition back to the “new normal.”  The engagement of the staff is a good measure of thoroughness of the plan for reentry into new normal operations and demonstrates your respect and commitment to them. It will influence the speed with which your business gets back on track and starts serving customers. Plan now to ensure the success of your business.

Contact us and allow our staff of HR and Industrial Organizationalists to help you develop your plan.  


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