Navigating the Re-opening of Business & Return to Workplaces

As I write this post, more than one million Americans have been infected, and more than 71,000 have died from the Coronavirus.  Additionally, 46 states and DC have ordered or recommended that schools remain closed through the end of this academic year. Still, even with limited contact tracing and testing, and no vaccine yet available, many states are now re-opening, and people are itching to get back to work. 

I get it. There’s no doubt that spending weeks in lockdown mode has been challenging, financially, mentally, physically, and emotionally. But COVID-19 hasn’t magically disappeared.  It’s still a very real threat. So, what does the phased re-opening of the country mean for you and your organization?

One of the fundamental aspects of being a positive leader is to do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do.  So, using that as the lens through which we can evaluate the situation, here are four strategies to help you map out your organization’s return to work and a new normal.

1. Put the safety and well-being of your team above all else. No one can guarantee that employees won’t get infected with COVID-19 upon returning to work, but there are numerous measures you can take to drastically mitigate this possibility. For example, eliminating shared desks, creating more space between co-workers, requiring use of masks, taking temperatures or using thermal cameras, installing plexiglass, deeper and more frequent cleaning, etc. Businesses are getting creative with how they’re modifying their workspaces to accommodate the return to work in this Coronavirus era. If you want your team to return to a physical workspace, start listing out the steps you are taking to ensure their safety.

2. Check in with your team to understand their concerns and needs and communicate what you are doing to address them. Simply announcing that employees must show up at work is not the most adroit way of handling this issue. Just like you, your employees have had their ups and downs during this lockdown period. Many will have fears and concerns about returning to a physical workplace. So, take the time to check in. If you have a large organization, doing this one-on-one is obviously not possible, but you can easily deploy a short survey to gauge how people are feeling. If you have a smaller team, have a group meeting to check in and discuss options, then schedule individual follow-up calls, so members have a chance to share and connect with you more personally. The key to all of this is being responsive to what you’re hearing and communicating the various measures you’re implementing to address the concerns.

3. Assess the remote-working situation to help you and your team. Since mid-March, the percentage of Americans working from home has jumped from 45% to 62%. Maybe your organization is one of those that has been functioning mostly or completely remotely during the lockdown. If so, then you probably realize that some of your employees hate this way of working and can’t wait to get back to the office, while others are relishing it because they are more productive at home. This is good news because it’s unlikely that you’ll want to bring back 100% of your workforce in the same workspace, right now. So, look at this as an opportunity for your team to leverage their individual strengths and life circumstances. Those who thrive in a structured and socialized environment could be among the first to return, and those who are flourishing in their new-found solitude or have to continue home-schooling their kids can remain at home. The pandemic has shown us that remote working is possible, so there’s no reason to abruptly end it. In fact, it’s a helpful resource in this ongoing time of uncertainty.

4. Be honest and transparent. In all of these steps, and as a positive leader, there is an imperative to be honest with your team. This is the foundation of establishing and maintaining trust in your organization. In fact, decades of Gallup’s workplace research consistently show that trust is one of the core and universal needs of employees. So, be honest that you can’t fully guarantee the safety of your employees and share what you’re doing to ensure it as far as possible. Be honest that you aren’t sure what business is going to look like and share how you plan to rebuild. Be honest that you don’t know exactly how life looks when some employees return to the office while others continue to work at home and share how managers are planning to organize this. I could go on, but you get my point. Employees are much more likely to stay with you and support you if you level with them and tell them what’s happening.

None of this is easy. No one thought they would be figuring out how to work through a pandemic, but here we are. As a positive leader, you are uniquely equipped to guide your team as it transitions back to the workplace. Just let the central principle of doing what’s right because it’s the right thing to do, drive your decisions and actions.

If you’ve got questions or you want to share how you’re leading your team during this crisis, drop me a line at [email protected] – I always love to hear from you. Plus, if you want me to address a specific topic in these posts, just let me know.

Also, if you want some simple practices that can increase positivity for you and your team, you can download my book for free, right here: 25 Tips for Leaders: How to Leverage the Science of Happiness to Increase Performance, Productivity, and Profitability

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