What’s Next? Transitioning Back to Work From an HR Perspective

Employees have spent weeks social distancing and working from home. And just as they have started getting used to working with their cats or kids crawling all over them, businesses are beginning to open back up and they are being asked to return to the workplace.
For employers, the transition back will come not only with new employee safety concerns but also the challenge of getting their employees back into a new routine. So how can you help transition your employees back to the workplace, ensuring you meet both the needs of your business and those of your employees?  
First, it’s important to understand that some employees may be extremely hesitant to go back to work, especially if they have children at home or are considered high risk. Although employers can require employees to come back to work, you should be open to working with your employees on a one-on-one basis. Brett Schneider shared his thoughts in an SHRM article:
"There's the legal answer and the practical answer. Keep in mind, for some people this has taken an emotional toll. They're afraid; they're grieving. If you have long-standing loyal employees, you should try to handle those situations with compassion and see things from their perspective."
Remember, returning to work will not be a one-size-fits-all solution; leadership may need to determine the best step forward based on a location, employee, department, etc.
Hopefully, you’ve already been communicating regularly with your employees, but if not, now is the time to do so. Make sure you are openly discussing the steps you are taking to reopen your business and to keep workers safe. Don’t focus so much on who the communication comes from; it may be your HR generalist, leadership team or employee managers, but the important thing is that it’s being communicated timely and accurately.
Communication topics may include staggering work shifts, new policies that enforce social distancing, mask wearing, new desk locations or steps for enhanced sanitation. Mike Lawrence shares additional perspectives around ramping up your business after COVID-19 in his recent blog.
Although everyone wants to get back to a “normal” routine, it will take time, and right now the most important thing is to take the steps necessary to ensure employee safety and health where possible.
Lastly, remember to stay flexible because there are still a lot of unknowns as employees return to the workplace. There may be new concerns that arise or a new process that should be added. Employees don’t expect everything to be 100% figured out, but be transparent about what’s happening, ask for suggestions, move forward the best you can and always remember to keep safety as priority No. 1!