By Jo Sutherland, managing director of Magenta Associates
Within the next few weeks and months, corporate offices will start opening their doors again. This reoccupation will be gradual – there’s not going to be the sudden influx of people in the same way that there was the sudden exodus in mid-March. But just as people had concerns when they left the office, they will be equally anxious about re-entering the workplace with questions around 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, transparent and open way will be important.
Here are our top eight tips on communicating the return to the workplace.
- Staged reoccupation: It’s likely that people will come back in stages so that the building is not fully occupied at any one time. Explain the reasons for the staged reoccupation and how it will be achieved eg: department by department; alternating the days people can work in the office; different shift patterns etc. Clearly explain when people can access the workplace and when they should keep working remotely and share the timescale for gradually easing people back into the building – even if it’s not set in concrete.
- New behavioural guidelines: Not only will the office be less occupied but people will need to work differently. That may include working a desk apart, limits on numbers of people on certain floors, reduced meeting room capacity, etc. Explain the new processes and procedures to people to help them understand why, for example, there may be fewer chairs in a meeting room or task chairs have been removed on floors. The procedures for using lifts, stairwells, washrooms and hot-desks while also maintaining social distancing will also have to be shared. Communicate this information in advance of the return to the workplace and then display the information prominently around the building to make sure that people are constantly reminded of the new way of working.
- Safety measures: Understandably, people will be nervous about coming back to work and mixing with other people. Set out the measures you have taken to ensure their safety. This could include:
- Enhanced cleaning regimes
- New security procedures to reduce contact
- Changes to the airflow system to increase the frequency at which the air is changed
- New touchless systems such as automatic doors
- Automatic temperature checks as people enter buildings
- Extra cycling racks to reduce the need to use public transport
- Providing personal hygiene packs to each staff
- Signage around the building to encourage social distancing
- Placing tissues on each desk together with cleaning materials
- Increased messaging around hand washing
- New policies and procedures around business travel: It’s unlikely that people will travel in the first few months after lockdown ends to the degree they did before the pandemic. Many organisations will limit travel or attendance at certain events for a period. Make sure you communicate that clearly to your teams so there are no surprises.
- Remote working: Remote working has proved to be largely effective during the crisis so many businesses will continue with a degree of home working for the long-term. Communicate any changes in the company’s policy around home working to people so they can continue to incorporate it into their working pattern.
- Furloughed employees: Some of the people coming back to the office will have been furloughed while others will have been working from home. They may have different experiences and feel at odds about the return to the workplace. This is an emotional time for everyone, so communicate carefully and recognise these differences.
- Redundancies: It may be that not everyone returns to the office. The changed economic situation may mean there are some redundancies and changes within organisations. Communicate these as quickly as possible, ensuring that they’re not left to the office grapevine, causing further uncertainty.
- Use a variety of tools and channels and keep communication fresh: At the beginning everyone will read the material provided and be interested and engaged out of a keenness to return to the workplace. But it will soon become wallpaper even though social distancing is likely to be around for many months. Keep the material fresh and change it regularly to ensure it gets noticed.