The coronavirus pandemic brought daily life to a standstill. With businesses closed, schools canceled and families staying at home, people found their typical daily schedules were now dramatically different.
With many states now in the midst of reopening, there is a lot of buzz surrounding businesses resuming operations, employees returning to the office and elected leaders deciding how best to jumpstart local, state, and federal economies.
For employees who have been out of work or have been working fully from home, the new office environment is likely to be very different than when they left. Physically returning to work will be a big shift and require time for employees to acquiesce.
These are all very important topics, but for those who have been sheltering in place for three or more months, many are contemplating the situation much more broadly. Returning to work is one thing, but right now, many people are asking: “How do I return to life?”
Three Steps HR Professionals Must Consider
Beyond returning to physical workplaces, employees will be returning to their daily activities within the work week and navigating their time outside of the office as well. As we begin to unfreeze daily life, HR professionals would be wise to consider the following steps to support your employees.
Step One: Redefine Daily “Life” Activities
As offices begin to gradually reopen, routine activities during the workweek may now be completely altered. Encourage your employees to think about the things that brought them happiness during the workweek and to list them out. For example:
- Grabbing coffee from a favorite coffee shop
- Getting together with coworkers socially after business hours
- Eating out at restaurants for lunch
- Going to the gym or taking a lunchtime walk
Once the list is set, rank the activities in order of importance. Suggest employees take this list and think about how it may need to be altered to stay safe and follow social distancing protocols.
If employees can’t determine a safe way to practice a particular activity, perhaps there is an alternative that can take its place. For example, eating at a restaurant for lunch may become grabbing take-out and finding a place where coworkers can eat comfortably outside.
Step Two: Set Expectations
It is important to recognize the various stages of comfort that employees may feel about phasing-in activities they once enjoyed during the week. People have varying limits when it comes to feeling comfortable and safe. One person may be comfortable with eating at a restaurant that follows social distancing and reduced capacity, while another person may say it is too much risk.
When determining a framework for returning to the workplace and daily activities within the workweek, being mindful of all comfort levels is key.
Perhaps company activities that used to take place indoors can be reimagined to take place outside. Instead of having an all-staff meeting in a conference room or auditorium, consider hosting the meeting on the grounds outside the building or even at a nearby park.
Encourage employees to be clear with their own boundaries around previously normal activities and to share that information with coworkers to help them understand how they are managing returning to the workplace and returning to life. Proactive, non-confrontational communication is key.
Step Three: Understand Safety Measures
For some people, redefining daily life and setting expectations will take some time and thought, but with proper guidance and knowledge of various safety measures being deployed by businesses and communities, they will learn to adapt fairly quickly. For others, additional layers of information will add to the stress of future unknowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
How can employers best encourage employees to follow safety measures outside the office, knowing their actions will impact both culture and productivity inside the office?
First and foremost, urge employees to wear a mask. Whether they are in the office or not, wearing a mask is proven to minimize the risk of transferring the virus.
Suggest employees carry rubber gloves and hand sanitizer when out in the community. Remind employees to wear the gloves in situations such as pumping gas or grabbing a coffee on the way to work.
It is also important that employees understand they are not alone. Since the beginning of the pandemic, our company has seen a fourfold increase in demand for mental health counseling. Most commonly, people are getting help for stress, anxiety, and depression.
As we return to a more traditional work environment and seek to keep workforces as safe and healthy as possible, HR professionals must consider employees’ daily activities and lives outside of the office.