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There’s no other way to put it. We’ve changed.
The last three months have shown incredible amounts of growth, innovation and resilience across many industries. The preparedness to adapt in a fast-paced, ever-changing situation has allowed businesses to continue – many of those that would have been forgiven if they simply ‘shut up shop’, given the effects of the pandemic.
Yes, the conversation is changing – ‘the return’ is becoming the new focus. But a lot needs to change before this can happen. You might think you are ready – but are your employees?
For many workers, being faced with a new situation – working from home – meant there was no precedent. This allowed individuals to set their own rules, procedures and ways of ‘getting things done’ – there were no office guidelines, protocol or routines to guide them. They also had very little time to think about how they would adapt – they just had to.
The return to the office will be vastly different, and will need to be carefully considered. Employees are likely to fall into old habits when confronted with a familiar setting – it’s our job, as, among other things, change agents, to ensure the safety, security and productivity of the new workplace.
As employees are the major driver of the success or failure of change, three main stages need to be considered; careful planning, clear communication and regular review. Most importantly, each of these needs one additional element – true employee consultation.
Planning The Change
Don’t pretend to know everything about your organisation and your workplace. Your staff (and contractors, for that matter) are a valuable source of information about the office flow, and should be consulted right from the beginning. The workplace will need substantial changes – these will affect all aspects of the day-to-day. Do you need markers in high-traffic areas? In lifts? Who is responsible for meeting room capacity and cleanliness? Every office has (or should have) a team dedicated to workplace operations – they are full of valuable insight.
Planning also means policies, procedures and checklists. What happens if there is a confirmed COVID-19 case on-site? How will you respond to changes in government advice? These factors, and many more need to be considered so that you can have confidence initiating staff communications.
Change Communication Shouldn’t be a ‘Sell’
By including your staff in the planning phase, you’ve already done half the work. While you’re never going to please everybody (there’s always going to be a contingent of ‘resisters’ - but we need to minimise the impact of the pit of despair), the change is based on day-to-day advice from the people actually doing the work, and in some cases, administering the change. You’ve created a consultative relationship, removing the need for the hard sell, or the notion of staff being merely ‘passive implementers’.
In this instance, clear communication is more than just the message. Signage and regular contact is key – they will service as regular reminders (or soft reinforcement) of the changes to the workplace. Your workplace team will also be the eyes and ears to help break the old habits of your staff. In addition, these teams will also need to be continually monitoring – the best test of change is putting it into place. Over the course of the coming weeks, they will undoubtedly hear frustrations, off the cuff ideas and suggestions - with varying degrees of validity. Giving your staff a formal way to air their concerns will also be appreciated – through a survey, team WIPs etc.
The Review and Additional Change
Robust governance is key during the review of any change. The checklists, procedures and policies created in the initial stages will serve you well - you should have a clear plan for the review - including timeframes, a process to identify, collate and manage grievances and a steps to implement, communicate and once again review any additional adjustments.
Given that the safety of your staff is paramount in this instance – it’s important to balance discussion and implementation timeframes. Use insight from workplace staff, surveys, and continue to monitor government advice, but limit procrastination, especially if your team considers the change to be necessary.
It’s important to note that some changes will not be permanent – during the planning stage, set some triggers for these to be reviewed and scaled back. To remove any anxiety around loosening restrictions, positive, clear communication and consultation is again important. Above all, remember to thank staff for their efforts - they’ve put in the hard work, allowing you to contemplate further re-opening (meeting rooms, visitor access etc).
While uncertainty is still part of our working life, as long as we plan, communicate and review necessary changes, we can minimise negativity. This will help your team stay productive, and most importantly, create a safe, healthy working environment that allows us to ultimately get back to business.
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