Cathy Hayward offers communication tips to help employees overcome their anxieties when returning to the workplace.
Within the next few weeks and months, corporate offices will open their doors again. Reoccupation will be gradual – the influx won’t be the same way as the exodus in March. People will be anxious about re-entering the workplace with questions about safety, wellbeing, the behaviour of other colleagues and the future of their role and the wider business.
Addressing these concerns and communicating the new normal in a clear and transparent way is important.
People are likely to return in stages so that the building is not fully occupied for a while. It could be department by department; alternating the days people work in the office or shift patterns.
Explain when people can access the workplace and when they should keep working remotely and share the timescale for easing people back into the building – even if it is not set in concrete. Set out the reasons for the staged reoccupation.
New behavioural principles
People will need to work differently – such as working a desk apart, limiting the number of people on floors or reducing meeting room capacity. Explain the new procedures in advance to help people understand why, for example, there may be fewer chairs in a meeting room or some task chairs have been removed on floors.
Procedures for using lifts, stairwells, washrooms and hot-desks while also maintaining social distancing will have to be communicated. Some organisations may introduce single-flow direction to stop people crossing in corridors.
Communicate this information in advance of the return to the workplace and display the details prominently around the building as a constant reminder.
People will be nervous about mixing with others after socially distancing for so long. Set out the measures you have taken to make sure of their safety such as:
- Enhanced cleaning regimes;
- Personal hygiene packs;
- Touchless systems such as automatic doors;
- Changes to the airflow system to increase the frequency at which the air is changed; and
- Extra cycling racks and parking spaces to reduce public transport use.
Policies for business travel
Many organisations will introduce policies limiting travel or attendance at certain events for a while. Communicate these to your teams so there are no surprises.
If people need to visit different offices, explain the different procedures at those sites if they vary across your portfolio.
The pandemic has just accelerated the rise of remote working. The practice has proved to be largely effective during the crisis so many organisations will continue with a degree of homeworking for the long term. Communicate any changes in company policy on this to people so that they can continue to incorporate it into their working pattern.
Share visitor-specific information with the business so they can inform visitors of the measures in place to ensure their wellbeing, and those of the organisation’s employees in advance of their visit. Display this guidance as they enter the building.
Keep communication fresh
At the beginning everyone will read the material provided and be engaged out of a keenness to return to work. But it will soon become wallpaper even though social distancing is likely to go on for months. Refresh the material regularly to make sure that it gets noticed.
There are some ingenious, entertaining and memorable ways to communicate social distancing. Some of our clients have wanted to demonstrate what two metres looks like. They’ve created office posters that show:
- Four large desk chairs in a row;
- Two shopping trolleys end to end;
- A double bed with people standing at the foot and head of it; and
- People holding a broom out in front of them with the sign-off: ‘Keep your distance’ and
- Some use floor stickers in corridors.
Cathy Hayward is founder and chairman of Magenta Associates