Charities & Not for Profit

Planning your return to work strategy

Patrick Gallen Patrick Gallen

The past 100-days or so have been unlike anything most of us have experienced in our working lives. Thankfully we are beginning to see light at the end of this tunnel, and although the virus is still with us, it seems to be much more under control. This is good news for the economy and the charity sector, as many businesses begin to prepare for the return to work, and aim to make up for lost productivity.

But as most business and not for profit sector leaders have already realised, it is much easier to shut an office down than to reopen it under these conditions. The key for a successful return to work is through careful planning, clear communications, and staff training.

All organisations must be able to implement measures that minimise the risk to their staff and clients, and put safety at the top of the agenda. People will be apprehensive as they emerge from lockdown, and will want to know that they can return to work safely. It is the employers’ job to not only care for their physical safely, but also create psychological safety by reassuring and informing staff that precautions are in place with their well-being in mind, and new standards and procedures.

It is important that business and not for profit sector leaders don’t simply focus on the next few weeks – we are going to have to live with this virus for some time, and strategies that go beyond the immediate return to work issues and look to longer-term potential for lasting changes, are the organisations’ that will realise the opportunity to build back better.

We see the horizon in five stages;

  1. Anticipation - the planning begins
  2. Honeymoon - people are excited to return to some sense of normality
  3. Integration - the new practices are tested and begin to embed
  4. Performance - focus is back on the business and distractions are minimised
  5. Growth - opportunity to realise the benefits of new ways of working

Of course, the immediate focus will be on the initial stages. But leaders who approach the strategic planning with the longer-term goal of enhancing performance and building back better, will reap the rewards.

Within the Anticipation phase there are three critical steps:

Preparation: the focus is planning for reopening and specific requirements for each location. An employee survey will provide useful insights into how your employees travel to work, the distance of their commute, health issues of the employee or anyone in their household, social distancing planning of workspaces, which functions can remain remote, etc.

Execution: the focus here is to be sure that employees and customers understand and comply with new practices. Steps here include a COVID-19 health questionnaire, return to work online training to educate employees on what to expect on their return, identify and train ‘social distancing marshals’ for each location, which can be a challenge if you are a small organisation.

Reopening: the focus on the phased return to the office/building will be to continuously review and improve processes. Employee /client access by location, ensuring adherence to guidelines, and ongoing communication and engagement of staff will be important in this step.

Putting yourself in your employees’ shoes – understanding how they’re feeling, the messages and training they need in each stage - will go a long way to ensure your return to work strategy decreases your employees concerns while increasing your operational efficiency, particularly when cash resources and funds are at a premium.

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