It’s been less than a month since many local governments loosened restrictions, and some companies are already making significant mistakes in how they are approaching reentry. The cost of these mistakes is wasted money, confusion, and conflict, and the result is an unhappy workforce still in a state of fear, uncertainty, and a lack of trust that leaders can guide them back safely and practically.
Following are three mistakes to avoid in your reentry approach and how to quickly reverse them.
Mistake 1: Adopting A One-Size-Fits-All Mentality
In the rush to return employees to the workplace, some leaders are going back to their old mindset prior to COVID-19 instead of learning from what took place during this pandemic. What’s there to learn? Here are some common observations:
- Some people worked more effectively at home, while others were less productive and more distracted.
- Some teams coordinated better and were more responsive to each other working virtually, while other teams suffered breakdowns.
- Some people missed the social interaction of the office, while other people loved being alone to get work done without all of the interruptions.
- Some meetings became more effective, focused, and engaged in a virtual setting, while other virtual meetings became less engaging and focused.
So as you can see, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t make sense when people and workplace needs are so diverse.
Likewise, attempting to return to work as an entire organization doesn’t make sense, especially when the organization is located in different states or countries that are each following different regulatory standards and have different local cultures. Even different functional teams of an organization have different needs and responses to the virtual environment, and those should be taken into consideration during reentry planning as well.
Fix 1: Embracing Differences
Take time for each manager to connect with their direct reports to better understand the impact of working remotely on them personally, their families and their ability to perform their work and team up with others. There is so much learning we can get from our employees by engaging them in conversation of personal and professional impact. Assess the differences between teams, locations, specific customers, and regulatory standards to best understand the context of responses you receive.
You will discover patterns of similarity and differences to better manage your organization in the future, regardless of the next crisis that you run up against.
Mistake 2: Using Your Political Leaning To Make Decisions
As a leader, you are trusted and relied on for being a good critical business thinker who is innovative, creative, and sensitive to customers and culture alike. Unfortunately, I have heard about and witnessed managers espousing political rhetoric, philosophies, and beliefs on both ends of the political spectrum in regard to reopening business. These political debates, which are largely centered around whether or not to wear a mask, social distancing, and cleansing the office, are taking the conversation away from outcome-driven planning and focusing it on emotionally based opinions determined in part by political leaders. Would you be in the same conversation and conflict about wearing protective eyewear in a machine shop or wearing a helmet while working construction? A safety mindset is an approach that prioritizes reducing all possible risk to physical harm and makes employee safety the top priority.
Fix 2: Using Critical Thinking
When reopening, consider the safety of your employees and customers, as well as the environment and what is actually necessary. When deciding what measures to take, think of the proximity in which people are sharing a space, as well as the other factors that are present in your work environment.
Leaders must look at pros and cons, do careful analysis based on their particular situation and make good decisions that protect their workforce from harm and at the same time make it a better place to work than home. Ultimately, there could be great fluidity between working at home and working in the office or building based on individual, team and coordination needs and the desire to ensure the highest level of safety for all employees.
Mistake 3: Not Anticipating The Cost Of Reentry
Some leaders are so fixated on moving back to the office that they haven’t considered the associated costs or drawbacks of reentry. Consider these potential costs:
- How many people can come back to the office without the risk of people having to leave again due to illness? Imagine the high cost and confusion to both the organization and employees from bringing people back to work only to send them home again.
- What are the costs in time, energy, frustration and productivity associated with health and safety protocols when people come back to the workplace?
- What is the cost to morale when people are forced to return to the workplace but don’t feel safe or productive or have other (new) family constraints (e.g., children at home or in home-schooling)?
- What is the downside of forcing people to stay at home when they work better away from home or need breaks from their family to ease stress?
- What is the cost to the business to lose some of the gains in efficiency, productivity and quality that took place while working virtually?
- What is the cost to trust in leadership if there isn’t a clear, logical and well-organized way to return to the workplace?
Fix 3: Considering Costs To Your Business, Employees And Customers
Ultimately, getting back to the workplace isn’t as important as making effective decisions and demonstrating trustworthy leadership. Take your time, and consider as many options as are practical for your business, customers and employees.
This is a time to relook and reassess our businesses, our roles, transparent communication, effective execution, accountability and leadership at all levels.
This article was originally published on both Forbes and the B State Blog.