Creating a back to work transition that is easy for staff
Updated: Jun 15
Once vaccine numbers rise to the point that people will make the back to work transition, we’ll face a dilemma not seen since the pandemic sent millions of workers home. After more than a year of working remotely, seeing only our families and members of our bubbles, and living entirely online, it’s going to be a huge lift to adjust to in-person interactions once again.
Unlike the jarring, bewildering start of the pandemic, however, we will be able to prepare. Now is the time to start making the back to work transition plans (if you haven’t started already). With a lot of preparation, reasonable expectations, and clear communication, you and your team can weather this next phase of work as gracefully as possible.
Set the stage for a back to work transition
Communication needs to begin long before the in-person back-to-work date. Videoconference with your people to prepare them for what is coming, such as phased work weeks and modified schedules, so they can begin to coordinate their own personal lives.
It’s also a good idea to be crystal clear about precautions and contingency plans, both to allay employees’ fears and to avoid surprises. Are there new cleaning and disinfecting procedures? How should an employee report a possible COVID-19 infection? Will employees be required to stay home if they come in contact with someone who has been infected? Brainstorm every possibility you can think of — even if it seems unlikely — and build your plan. Make sure every employee has access to that back to work transition plan for reference and peace of mind.
Celebrate the return to work!
The first day back at work should be a very big deal! We are all far less socialized than we were in January or February 2020 — even the extroverts among us are out of practice. That’s one of the reasons why the in-person start date should be lighthearted and free of to-do lists.
The other is that you and your colleagues have pulled off what seemed to be impossible, and that effort should be respected and rewarded. Decorate the office. Hire a food truck. Have contests. Organize networking events so people can reconnect in smaller groups. Make it a celebratory atmosphere so there is less pressure all around.
If you’re in a leadership or employee retention position, such as a manager, HR specialist, or CEO, make the back to work transition a priority, and have one-on-one check-ins with your colleagues. Put their mental well-being first by working with their needs, adjusting schedules as necessary, and heading off any other challenges.
Take care of yourself
Leaders will need to take extra care with their own health. Complaining down might be tempting, but avoid it by putting self-care on your daily must-do list. Eat well, exercise daily, sleep well, and meditate. Ask for support from your mentor, or, if you don’t have one, consider hiring a coach who can help you navigate this transition period. To take care of others, you first need to take care of yourself.
Remember: Put people first during this hectic period. Plan for the unexpected and expect hiccups. With a bit of grace and a lot of understanding, you and your colleagues can rediscover the connection that comes from working as a team.