The COVID-19 global pandemic has led to an explosion of buzzwords in the business world. ‘New normal’ has been circulating on hyper-speed all over the business community. So, have established words like ‘self-isolation’, ‘key workers’, ‘lockdown’ and ‘quarantine’. Then there are the COVID-19 neologisms like ‘covidiot’ (a covid denier), ‘covideo party’ (an online ZOOM or Skype Party) and many others. Finally, we have the terms that have material changes to our professional lives like ‘WFH’ (work from home), ‘quaranteam’ (remote teams created by quarantine), and ‘Zoom meetings’ (meetings on Zoom).
In times of significant crises, linguistic creativity reflects the major preoccupations of the time. It is also a means for us to make sense of the changes that have suddenly become a part of our everyday lives.
As Melburnians move out of tough Lockdown 4 restrictions, a new word is beginning to emerge. RTW or return to work. Victoria’s new COVID-19 cases are now in single digits. Our 14-day rolling average is trending in the right direction. Reopening the economy and allowing workers to return to their offices is becoming real. So, how ready are we leaders and managers for a return to work scenario?
The last time I was in our Docklands office was more than six months ago. I have not been back to the premises since the first lockdown when the federal government declared that they were shutting down the economy to contain the virus. As we move closer towards a lifting of restrictions, the team and I have been planning for our ‘return to work’ normal.
Here are some useful tips we would like to share with you:
1. Cashflow and your business
Now is the time for leaders to do some serious business planning. The faster you sort out the company’s budget, the sooner your business can get back on track. Getting your finances sorted out will give your workers a greater sense of security when they return to work. They will be able to focus on their work, be more productive and deliver better results.
Consider the following:
- Cashflow. Reopening the office will require some spending. To reconfigure the office to a COVID-safe environment, your business may have to invest in new furniture and fittings. There are also operational costs like electricity, staff coffees, cleaning, and other bills that the business has not been paying in lockdown.
- Bank loans. If your business requires a bank loan to help you get back on your feet, you may want to start the process now.
- Cost-saving. To manage your finances, look at areas where you can save. For example, lease, suppliers, and insurance.
- Billing. Make sure your billing is up to date before reopening. Have a system in place to follow up on outstanding invoices and finalise any new job quotes you may want to revisit.
2. Your Team
Your team must be the most important consideration in the RTW equation. An effective leader tunes in to how their workers are thinking and feeling in a crisis. They keep watch on changes and respond to concerns.
While the team was in lockdown, my managers and I spent a lot of time connecting with them. Working from home was a big shift that most of us have never experienced before. Keeping staff motivated and focused on their work requires empathy, kindness, and patience.
Now that they are moving back to a structured office environment, workers will again require the same level of support from their managers. Understanding that after six months of working at home, workers can become accustomed to the routine and switching back to a 9 to 5 environment will require a period of adjustments.
Five principles and priorities to lead the team out of lockdown:
- Employee-centric approach. Staff should be the Number 1 priority. Workers need to know that their leaders are supportive as they make the transition back to work.
- Quality communication. Communication is vital. Keep the staff informed of changes without overloading them with information. Be transparent about the changes the company is making. Be proactive by taking the effort to personally talk to every staff so you know what they are thinking and feeling.
- A shared vision. Focus on a clear, shared vision and a sense of purpose beyond the daily routines. Reframe the transition process regularly so staff can see what is needed in each stage and can focus on these changes.
- Collaboration and networking. Barriers were broken when we worked from home. Continue to challenge the norm by empowering staff to take on new responsibilities.
- Empathy and gratitude. Empathy should not end just because our team is back in the office. Be sympathetic about the challenges each individual may be facing. Adjust expectations if you have to. Show gratitude for their efforts and initiative.
3. Health & Safety
Businesses must look after the health and safety of all employees. If every Melburnian does their part, we can effectively manage the virus and keep our economy open.
Here are some measures your business can take:
- Read the government’s COVID-19 website so your business can comply with the health department’s guidelines of a COVID-SAFE workplace.
- As a business leader, you will have to put in place clear health and safety guidelines.
- Consider PPE and hygiene measures in the office.
- Create a workflow plan that respects social distancing.
- Communicate to staff how important it is that they follow these requirements. Lead by example.
- Be aware that some staff may not feel safe returning to the office. Have a plan to help them continue to work from home.
- Prepare a comprehensive risk management plan that identifies all the measures your business will be taking to ensure the health and safety of your staff, visitors, and clients. Put this plan on your website and on social.
4. Your Clients
Our clients were just as affected by the virus as we were. So, when we reopen, we have to consider them as well.
In my business, client meetings are common. During the pandemic, we shifted all these meetings to an online medium. But as we return to the office, we have to be prepared for clients coming into the office. We also have to accommodate clients who may not be ready for face-to-face contact.
Some of the things I have been doing:
- Contacting my clients to let them know the precautions our business is taking to keep them safe when we reopen.
- Assuring clients that the online Zoom meetings are still available if they are not comfortable with a face-to-face meeting.
- Preparing our COVID-SAFE guidelines and risk management plans to be uploaded onto our website and social media platforms when the time is right.
- Exploring potential new markets that we could diversify to.
When we were forced to work from home, many of us were not prepared for the changes we encountered. My team and I took weeks to adjust. In that time, we faced challenges and productivity was low. But we banded together and somehow made it worked. The lessons we learned working from home can now be applied to when we have to return to work. RTW need not be as difficult as WFH if we are better prepared.
Book a discovery call with Iris and see how she can support you or your organisation in improving leadership skills, productivity and team engagement.
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Iris Du is a leadership strategist and human behaviour expert who thrives on helping individuals, leaders and businesses achieve the success they deserve. Drawing on leadership, attraction and manifestation strategies, Iris works with organisations to help them leverage their natural talent to create highly engaged and high-performing leaders and teams.