It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near one. ~JR Tolkien
The most common question that has been circling for weeks in HR circles, leadership groups, and peer networks is, “When do we go back to the office?”
The next question we hear is “How do we go back to the office?”
Enter the dragon Tokein references above.
Let's be honest; how many of us have ever lived near a live dragon before? None of us have ever experienced anything like this in our lives, let alone work settings. As your organization begins to consider the when and how to return to the office, there are three main areas of focus to start. Of course, there will be many other decisions, policies, and ways of doing business to consider beyond this point.
For now, here is where to start:
Get a pulse from your employees.
Consider sending a survey to employees to understand their challenges during this time. Survey data can help you identify which employees would be interested in returning to the office and those who desire to stay at home longer.
Beyond the data to help in the decision-making, a survey will also illustrate to the employees that you value their voice. During these trying times, I doubt any of us want to create an atmosphere where we seemingly demand employees choose between work and their family/health. Asking for their input indicates you, as leaders, will attempt to balance that narrative in the decisions ahead.
Develop new standard operating protocols with a focus on safety.
The work environment has certainly changed through this experience. Create task force teams and begin to evaluate what your company plans to do for shared workspaces, high touch surfaces, and cleaning frequency. The CDC, OSHA and National Safety Council have provided good resources to begin to develop those plans. Prepare your team for these changes in protocols and develop training for their return.
Prevent and Prepare for Worst-Case Scenarios
While staying positive is key, we can't ignore the reality of this situation: everything is uncertain, and anything can happen. Putting procedures and protocols in place to prevent worst-case scenarios from happening is best practice, but it doesn't mean the worst won’t happen. Prepare a back-up plan for your back-up plan and bring in experts to help. For example, The Koch Co. has experts trained in workplace safety who are closely monitoring the impacts of COVID-19 and are available to provide our expertise. Scenarios to consider and prepare for:
- How do we prevent key employees from falling ill? | What’s our back up if they do become sick?
- How to retain key accounts in an unstable market? | What untapped markets are out there |
What needs come about from this situation that we can fill?
- How do we prevent the virus from spreading? | If an employee becomes symptomatic or exposed, are you prepared to provide paid leave to encourage them to stay home?
Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate again
This is a multi-level strategy.
First, network, talk, research, and talk more with peers in like-businesses, different industries, and maybe even competitors to learn how others are preparing for a new normal. These ideas and plans will help you in the areas above as well as developing new strategies forthcoming.
Second, there cannot be too much communication when leading through VUCA times. The term VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity and originates from a 1998 report from the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. It’s important for employers to communicate through many methods within their physical worksite including email, video, and sign markers. Communication will assist employees in feeling supported through this uncertain time.
Luckily, it’s not up to us to slay the dragon. We don’t have to go on a magic quest and find a mystical sword or learn any magic spells. What we can do is stay engaged and educated as this situation evolves. The Koch Co. continues to curate resources for our clients to stay up to date. Our team knows that every business is different and unique in how this challenge is addressed.