Returning to work safely is of paramount importance to organisations and people alike. Leaders and managers must ensure that everyone feels safe, included and supported. But how can you ensure this happens? Stephanie Davies has some strategies to help you.
Helping people feel safe and supported
Everything has changed. Of that there is no doubt. And no matter what happens in the coming months, as the vaccine roll-out continues and restrictions start to ease, things will undoubtedly be different. Life will never be the same. And that’s not a bad thing.
At Laughology, we’ve spent the last year helping organisations ensure their people are happy and supported through these times. It’s been a steep learning curve for all of us. So, we’ve put together some of the things we’ve learned that will help you and your people stay positively engaged and feel safe as new work patterns evolve.
We’ve also added some handy download activities for you to do with your teams to understand how they feel, as well as an easy-to-use Back to Work Action Plan (WAP). Use it as a way to start a conversation with someone who needs a bit of extra help coming back to work or when at work.
Finding a balance
In the world of work, even if restrictions are completely removed, new patterns of work will persist. WFH will jostle with IRL (in real life) and people will have more freedom to choose how they want their working week structured.
Younger people living in shared urban accommodation will likely be itching to get back to the office, while suburban commuters will not miss the time and expense of daily travel. Meanwhile, Covid-19 may well prove to be the stake in the heart of the tyranny of presentism.
The way forward will be hybrid. And, like hugging, some will embrace the social buzz of office life once more, while others will choose to keep their distance. Understandably, there will be many within organisations who view a return to work in any capacity with trepidation. Crammed buses, trains and underground carriages are no longer just uncomfortable, they’re potential biohazards.
And while we used to laugh at Mary from accounts because of her 20-a-day hacking cough, we now treat her like she’s got the black death. And what do employers do about people who’ve decided not to have a vaccine? Are vaccinated workers allowed to choose not to work with them?
Strategies to support the return to work
For businesses and organisations, the new ways of working will be challenging, and a large degree of flex and trial-and-error will be required on all sides.
So what can you do to help people return to work safely?
- Have conversations. Lots of them. People need to be informed and like to be included in decision-making. Particularly when those decisions affect them directly. Each team, department and individual will have different views, fears and expectations. Equip managers with the skills and the autonomy to make decisions with their teams. Make agreements together. Use tools such as Survey Monkey to gain understanding and insight into how people feel and what their expectations are.
- When you have a plan, communicate it and invite feedback to ensure everyone is happy and concerns are addressed. Have regular check-ins. Use pulse surveys to gather feedback.
- Going back into open-plan offices might be difficult for some people. Investigate creating more private spaces where people feel secure and can work without being disturbed.
- Psychological safety is important and can be boosted with visual markers to help calm fears. Place hand sanitisers around the workplace, display guidelines for wiping down equipment and create positive new habits. If required, create one-way systems through the workplace. This can be as simple as putting stickers and arrows on floors. Encourage and host regular chats about changes and communicate updates. Managers and leaders are key for communicating these. Messages must be clearly fed down the organisation. Managers and team leaders can use our Psychological Safety Buzz Activity (download) to help understand what individuals and teams need to feel safe
- Everyone will have their own interpretation of what feels safe. There’s no right or wrong. Hold awareness sessions to help everyone understand how to be respectful of other people’s views. Our Mind the Gap programme for managers can support this.
- Offer mental health support. Assign mental health champions within your organisation, train them and get support programmes in place ready for the return to work. Host awareness sessions for everyone in addition to training for volunteers. Everyone should play a role supporting each other, looking out for the signs that their colleagues need help.
- Create a sense of fun. Laughter goes a long way and can help alleviate stress and make people feel comfortable. Lockdown has taught people to be creative and think laterally when creating fun activities, both IRL and online. Encourage fun in the workplace, both for office-based workers and people working from home. Everyone should be included.
- Encourage a buddy system for people who want to WFH more, to ensure they feel connected. Develop peer groups within your organisation consisting of people working in all environments. Set real business challenges for them and encourage monthly get-togethers.
- Skill up managers to enable them to lead with empathy and have great conversations. Our easy to follow Back to Work Action Plan (download) can support more sensitive conversations.
Follow these steps and we promise you, the return to work will be less bumpy and safer for all. If you’re looking for some more tips to bring back your oomph, join our FREE webinar on 2nd July at lunchtime to learn some more tricks for motivating yourself and others.