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Return To Work Strategies

The Covid-19 scenario continues to shift at pace with curves flattening and infection rates falling across much of the globe, and as a result many nations are now relaxing lockdowns and actively discussing how to enable economies to start moving again. Businesses are being advised that workers can start returning to their workplaces again where absolutely necessary, and while this is probably no more than a steady trickle at the moment, it will surely not be long until there is a sustained message to return to work.

But much in the same way that businesses were ill prepared for the onset of the pandemic, how prepared are they for the reversal of restrictions? Do they know how their employees feel about this next step, and how to effectively manage it after months of home working and separation? After all, this is once again new for everyone so it’s likely that the existence of Return to Work strategies is something of a rarity.

In our ongoing support of clients, discussions are now focussing on these RtW strategies – what lessons have the businesses and their employees learned from this experience, will staff be reticent about a return to the work place after a taste of home working, and does the business want them to return long term? Has everyone found a better way of working or frankly does everyone just want to get back to normal and pretend this never happened? Other questions arise… after months of perhaps using personal devices should these now be allowed into the office space if not previously the case, how do we integrate and manage the increased flexibility that home working may have allowed into the ‘old’ way of working, and what about all those new technology solutions that have been adopted during our separation – are they now to be integrated into corporate networks?

These are decisions that cannot be taken lightly, and cannot be taken on a whim. Decisions made now may stay with the business for the foreseeable future so they have to be well judged and well implemented. And involving the very people this will impact is essential in this process. Which is why most of our recommendations start with a Return to Work survey.

RtW surveys can take many forms, but the essential aim is to surface key insights that will help an organisation to understand the current ‘pulse’ within its staff and understand what has and has not worked over the lockdown period. Identifying the required business outcomes is critical from the outset – depending on the specific business the survey may focus on general Staff Engagement, Culture and Values, Technology, or the simple practicalities involved in a concerted return to work for the majority of the workforce, but most likely it will touch on all of these elements in order to provide a clear and rounded view of the status quo. Asking the wrong questions, or the right questions in the wrong way, can however be damaging as it may set false expectations of the ensuing strategy, and it is critical that the business actually listens even when the answers perhaps aren’t what was expected or desired. There is little that effects culture and staff morale more negatively than being asked for openness and honesty in providing opinions, only to see these ignored when they don’t suit the big picture.

There is no doubt that staff surveys can be a vital tool in these dislocated times and using them to help inform strategy is a great way to build engagement and staff loyalty, whilst also creating a future that has been designed with genuine insight. There is an opportunity right now for businesses to build a ‘better normal’, and we can help in that process.

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