July 15, 2020
NACA Director of Finance & Operations
As places of business have been reopening and some people are venturing out into closer proximity to others, there has been a surge in the number of new cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in many states and cities across the country. While this has caused some employers to pause their plans for bringing staff back into the workplace, many employers are continuing to research and plan for changes to the workplace for when employees do return. Many government agencies and other businesses offer resources, advice, webinars and other training on protocols to minimize risk of the spread of the disease when employees return. But, while planning for the physical and logistical changes needed, it's important to remember that the staff who are returning may be changed from the staff who left. From a human resources perspective, patience and empathy will be needed as employees return. In addition, communicating big picture goals will help focus energy and attention in a more positive direction. Those goals should include the health and safety of staff, attending to diverse responses to the pandemic, and the financial viability of the business.
There are different and unique situations from which employees are returning and there will be a certain amount of emotional baggage resulting from isolation and other life-changing aspects of the virus that will impact the reaction to new policies and procedures at work. Emotions may be expressed as behaviors with potential positive as well as negative workplace reactions.
Some returning employees may be excited and ready to be back at work and into a normal routine. Call on those people to be your ambassadors as you communicate positivity to others who may be nervous and scared about the virus or those who may be concerned about the financial viability of the business and their job security.
Others may be resistant to the new policies thinking them to be overly restrictive. After months of isolation and distancing they may have pandemic exhaustion and want things to be as they were before the pandemic occurred. Potential reactions may be conflict, blame, low productivity, or hyper-vigilance. In dealing with those reactions, continue to reiterate the big picture goals and how the policies and protocols help ensure those goals will be met to the benefit of everyone.
For parents of small children, childcare may be a challenge. Empathy and flexibility with work schedules or other types of accommodations may be needed. The Families First Coronavirus Act may come into play. Plan in advance for how adjustments can be made within the framework of operations.
Keep in mind that senior management will have been planning for the safe return of staff long before the announcement of when and how the reboarding will take place. When the announcement is made that a reboarding plan is being implemented, employees will be at step one. Bring them up to speed. Be detailed in describing the changes that will be implemented and allow for open dialogue. Again, keep the big picture goals as the basis for decisions and communications about how operations will be carried out.
Day to day open communication is the key to successful reboarding. There needs to be a communications system that ensures nothing falls through the cracks. This could be a top to bottom or team-based approach. The end goal is to make sure there is transparency and no one is left out of the loop. Clear and repetitive messaging will ensure everyone "gets it."
As employees settle back into the workplace, continue to remind them that while the workplace may be operating a bit differently, the goals of the work are still the same. Celebrate successes. Support and encourage those who need help so that momentum will be maintained.
Planning ahead for not only the physical and logistical adaptations, but also for the mental and emotional needs of returning staff, will contribute to a successful transition back into the workplace. Knowing and communicating big picture goals and exercising patience and empathy will demonstrate to employees that their safety and physical and mental health are of utmost importance and they have the support of leaders and managers in navigating the return to the workplace.
Brenda Baker is the director of finance and operations at the National Association for Campus Activities. Baker has dedicated her 40-year career to managing associations' financial resources and services.
Related Professional Competency: Volunteer & Staff Management