While it's hard to envision the end of the COVID-19 disruption, there are some things smart employers can be doing now to prepare for the reopening of offices, businesses and, indeed, our entire economy. Business owners, managers and HR professionals alike have been tested over the past month or two, and the road ahead is paved with challenges.
For organizations and those who lead them, the leadership journey will only be beginning after the heightened activity of the pandemic slows down. Getting through it will require focused attention in the following areas:
Demonstrating gratitude. Like your mom always says, “Say thank you.” Recognize that these were tough times for your team, and, with limited exceptions, they rose to the occasion. Let them know, ideally in a face-to-face conversation (think “management by walking around”) or via your normal internal communications channels, that you noticed and appreciated their flexibility in adapting and keeping your business on course. Likewise, praise your leaders for their role in guiding their colleagues.
“Anchoring” your team. The past weeks have been full of disruptions, physical and emotional separation, the juggling of multiple roles and a lack of ability to truly connect. Rally your team by providing initiatives and opportunities to anchor them to each other -- and to your business. For example, consider a team-building activity, a sales brainstorm session, a staff planning retreat or even something as simple as an after-work happy hour.
You may want to incorporate several diverse opportunities in the first months to fully rebuild. Remind them that we all do well when we all work together, and create meaningful reasons for them to reconnect and re-establish trust and collaboration.
Continuing to focus on health and safety. Even after the worst is over, public health experts agree that COVID-19 is likely here to stay until a vaccine is developed. Let employees know that keeping teams healthy and safe is a priority – and own your responsibility as an employer to make it happen.
Complying with applicable state and federal regulations, as well as public health recommendations. The rules have changed, and so must your operations. Make sure your business is running in accordance with all guidance from the CDC, state and local public health officials, as well as state and local orders and regulations.
Enhancing cleaning and disinfection protocols. Assure a safe and clean workplace -- it may be required, and it’s also the right thing to do. It’s a great way to demonstrate that you care. Provide hand sanitizer in common areas. Put additional cleaning measures in place. Tell your employees what you’re doing and why it matters.
Creating new appropriately distanced environments. It is a universal truth: The world as we know it won’t look the same for a while, and that includes workplaces. As necessary and appropriate, make modifications to reflect the need for continued social distancing in the workplace. Consider how the use of break rooms, shared offices and other congregate gathering locations must be modified to meet new guidelines.
Careful monitoring of health and symptoms of your team. Employers have new responsibilities to assure the health and well-being of their teams. As required, continue to monitor the health of team members, and encourage employees to self-report and stay home if ill or symptomatic, without fear of repercussion.
Managing expectations. A changing work environment is now the norm, and further changes may occur. Help them understand and embrace that public health guidance and safe workplace standards are evolving. But also help them see that the future is still bright, and encourage them to be both optimistic and realistic.
Collaborating is key. Ensure that employees know that in today’s world, everyone has a role in health and safety. Everyone on your team must be mindful of doing what is necessary to keep your workplace healthy. Shared responsibility is expected, and that means respecting boundaries, giving space when needed, avoiding large group gatherings and continuing to leverage technology.
Above all, remember that everyone processes difficult times and stressful situations differently. And for some, change is impossibly hard. Just like this change didn’t happen overnight, the recovery and return to some sense of normalcy also will take time and effort. Let understanding and patience be your guide.
Hinda Mitchell is the founder of Inspire PR Group, a full-service public relations and digital firm headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. With more than 25 years of experience guiding C-suite leaders in diverse business sectors, Mitchell is a sought-after expert in crisis management and response, executive counsel and communications strategy. She can be reached at Hinda@InspirePRGroup.com or on Twitter or LinkedIn.