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Returning to a Safe and Healthy Office Work Environment Series – Blog 4: Preparation for Return – Employee Engagement and Communications

By Brie DeLisi

A consistent feature to most organization change efforts include employee engagement and communications, and this is even more important during work transitions. Employee engagement impacts the quality of the changes, as well as the buy in from the greater workforce, while communications reduce ambiguity, assumptions, misunderstandings and confusion.

Consider the call center example used in the previous blog; first and foremost, this is typically a highly engaged and social workforce. Call center employees are regularly meeting with one another, sharing information and insights, supporting or seeking support, and celebrating wins together. These highly engaged individuals will already have the enthusiasm to support the company in creating return-to-work and contingency plans in a team setting. They will also bring insights by detailing all of the potential areas of risk that might easily be missed by management. Employers can ask employees to map out their day and highlight each moment in which they interaction or come into contact with colleagues. Employees can also help to identify whether solutions may or may not work by asking questions regarding how the particulars of these plans might impact their role. By including employees in this process, it will also increase the likelihood of buy-in by the greater workforce.

When developing the Return to Workplace Plan, leaders should take into consideration the following areas:
  • Stakeholder voices and team members – include managers, supervisors, employee voices, as well as operations and human resources
  • Physical environment – what changes will be made to the actual workplace
  • Human interaction – what changes need to be made to minimize contact
  • Procedures – identify roles, responsibilities and actions for added requirements and activities in the workplace
  • Risk management – identify the potential risk implications of any changes that are made to the workplace, and control measures or mitigation plans
  • Contingency plans – plans to support if and when the ‘new normal’ needs to change (this topic will be discussed in greater detail in a later blog)
  • Communications strategies – how employees will be made aware of changes

Communications are an incredibly important aspect of keeping employees informed and understanding their concerns. These times are already incredibly stressful for most, adding additional uncertainty in the workplace will only exacerbate those effects – which include physical and emotional health impacts, and lack of productivity. In order to avoid those impacts, it is important to regularly communicate with employees and seek their feedback. Advise that changes will be coming, what to expect and when to expect it – offer a Q&A forum for employees to ask questions. Conduct virtual town halls so that employees can hear information and ask questions in real time. Offer virtual video Q&A sessions for employees to ask their burning questions and feel heard in return. Finally, ask for feedback in the spirit of continuous improvement as employees may be able to offer some potential lessons learned for future consideration.

Future blogs in this series:
  • Remote and Flex Work Options
  • Contingency Plan Development
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Returning to a Safe and Healthy Office Work Environment Series - Blog 3: Safe Working Procedures and PPE