Return to Work: HR's Toughest Challenge and Best Opportunity

Jun 19, 2020

Return to Work

Returning to work during the global health crisis could be the toughest HR management challenge of our times.

Bringing employees back to their offices doesn't just involve health and safety risks; it also includes business continuity, business transformation, and employee experience challenges. Though we are excited to reunite with our work besties, a lot of us are in fear of being exposed to the virus.

A recent CBS News poll revealed that 63% of workers believe that it might be too soon re-open. But if we stay closed any longer, the resultant shock to our economy and livelihoods could be the biggest in almost a century.

"The economic danger of the outbreak is exponentially greater than its health risks."                                                      —     Adar Poonawala, CEO of Serum Institute of India

If we were to save our economy, implementing a safe return to work program is a crucial start. But its success depends on how transparent and trustworthy the collaborations between HR managers, employees, and business owners are-

But if trust wasomethingwe never relied on to get things done, we must ask ourselves some tough questions. 

  • Will employees trust HR with their lives on the line? 
  • Can your people rise to the challenge and save your business? 
  • What is your HR doing to protect everyone's lives and interests? 

Before we ask or answer these questions, we must acknowledge each other's contributions and challenges. So, here's an overview of how things look from those perspectives, along with some considerations for seizing fresh opportunities.

HR Perspective 

As the debate over health vs. economy thickens, there is a genuine conflict of interestbetween business leaders and employeesHR's must implement not only an effective return to work plan but also safety procedures for employees. Here's what to consider: 

Health and Safety Recommendations:

CDC has recommended interim guidelines for businesses and workplace safety to respond to COVID-19 for various scenarios. Below are the standard practices to be followed during a work shift.
  • Pre-screen: Conduct temperature checks and assess the symptoms of employees before entering the work premises. 
  • Regular monitoring: Provide continuous health monitoring and supervision by an in-house health program. 
  • PPE: Provide personal protective equipment like face masks, tissuesgloves, and hand sanitizers for each employee. 
  • Social distancing: A physical distance of at least six feet is mandatory for all employees in the workplace. 
  • Disinfecting and cleaning: Clean and disinfect all areas such as workstations,  desks, bathrooms, common areas regularly. 
  • Reducing touchpoints: Restrict access to common areas like cafeterias, recreation zones, and elevators. 
  • Communicate: Communicate and educate your employees on proper hygiene practices and roll out guidelines as prescribed by the CDC. Alsokeep them informed of recent changes and encourage them to share their concerns. 

Work From Home

The brief stint at our home offices, turned out to be more efficient than we expected. Depending upon the work, consider making work from home optional to productive employees. If schools and childcare facilities remain closed, offer the same option to employees who experience personal or emotional stress.

These considerations show that you're empathetic towards your people and earn their trust and gratitude.

From an HR standpoint, having an active remote team helps build a reliable re-exit plan.

Business Leaders Perspective

This return – to– work phase is both a litmus test of character and a question of survival for business leaders. In a shifting environment, we can't be sure we're making the right decisions; we can only assume.

But if you're convinced that you need to take those chances, here's how you can make the most out of them.

Revenue regeneration: 

The first objective for all businesses should be the rapid recovery of revenue to ensure business continuity. Get into a start-up mindset that prioritizes agility over perfection.

  • Identifying and developing Revenue opportunities: The Pandemic has altered the demands of your customers. So, with the use of data and analyticsunderstand those demands and supply to them. This might include developing low-touch customer experience portals, expanding your digital channelsand running targeted marketing campaigns to win back your loyal customers. 
  • Rebuild Supply Chain: COVID-19 crisis became a financial crisis because our supply chain channels came crashing down. Todaythe success of your return to work models largely depends on making these channels more shock-proof. Consider regionalization of supply chainsoutsourcing operationsand introducing external suppliers. Manufacturing closer to the market helps reduce hidden costs, improve product quality, and give more access to net customer connectivity. 
  • Remote selling: The challenge in remote selling is establishing a personal connection with your customers. Reskilling and upskilling your sales teams to address that information gap will be crucial. With most interactions happening digital, understanding your prospect's digital body language has become more comfortable with data analytics and AI. Most companies saw this emerging trend as a necessity for the future and acted upon it very early during the lockdownIf you haven't already, get started now. 
  • Low-cost servicesEvery financial crisis is an opportunity for low-cost services and products. Companies must assess the non-essential costs and redesign their products and services to reduce them. 

A Re-exit plan: As life and businesses resume in a vaccine-less world, a second wave is always in the cards. Anticipating such an emergency and building resilient operations with shock-proof supply chain channels is essential for business continuity. However, it's too early to predict how your employees will respond in case of re-exit and a further re-return. So, communicate and reassure them that things will go on despite any 

Employee Perspective

From an employee point of view, the last few weeks have been chaosMany of our friends lost their jobssome even lost their loved ones. As we struggle to fathom the distress, our HR leaders are already negotiating terms for our return 

But did you know that if you're still employed, it means you're an essential employee to your company? It's in your company's best interest to protect you and provide more opportunities. So, consider the following advice: 

  • Know your rights: Since governments have the lockdown restrictions lifted to re-open the economy, not showing up to work due to COVID-19 fear is not acceptable by law. However, companies have revised their leave policies under the Families First Coronavirus  Response  Act (FFCRA). So, ask for your rights and learn your reservations.  
  • Take Care of your Colleagues: As much as we care for our health and safety, it's also necessary to take care of the people around usWith an infected colleague, support them without intruding on their privacy. Some of your colleagues and friends might have lost jobs, so refer them to any you come across.  
  • Two-way Communication: Keep in regular touch with your HR managers. Communicate your fears and concerns. Know at what shift and what time you may have to show up. Ask for your rights and any possible travel allowances if you must avoid public transit. 
    Self-precaution & self-motivation: Exercise all precautionary measures to avoid contracting the disease and take immune-boosting nutrition regularlyOur companies are  offering  the  necessary support to keep us motivated. Acknowledge their effortslet go of the fear, and adapt to make productive contributions.

Trust Circle 

We all have a part to play in the post-COVID world and associate ourselves with it 

  • Employees should cast their fears aside and trust HR professionals with their health and safety concerns. HR leaders should earn that trust with empathy and honesty. 
  • Likewise, business leaders should count on their people's capabilities and provide them with more opportunities. Employees must make those opportunities count. 
  • Employees and HR professionals should trust their leaders to make the best decisions to serve everyone's interests, and leader must never break that trust. 

If trusting each other's capability is how we kick start our next normal, then this return to work phase will be the beginning of a glorious era for your organization. And at the heart of it all are our HR people turning challenges into opportunities, and opportunities into realities. That's why the  toughest HR management challenge is its best opportunity.  

Return to Work Webinar recording

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