Coronavirus (COVID-19), Recruiting, Talent

Communicating with Workers Before Bringing Them Back

For some employers across the nation, you may have already had the chance to bring workers back only to shutter your doors once more due to rising coronavirus cases in your state or city. Unfortunately, there are no clear answers as to when the workforce will fully be able to return, but it always helps to be prepared.

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Besides sanitizing and social distancing, your return-to-work plans should include an understanding of the mind-set of your employees, who have a wide range of opinions and expectations about returning to the office.

While some employees are eager to return, others are determined to stay home or adopt a hybrid of the two. You should not guess where your employees sit on the spectrum of readiness to return to the office—you should ask them. Although most organizations know that “employee listening” is critical, just 38% have increased their focus on it during the pandemic, finds Mercer’s latest research.

“For companies making return-to-office plans, now is a critical time to reach out to employees and ask for their feedback,” said Patrick Hyland, PhD, Director of Research and Development at Mercer. “By engaging in a dialogue with employees, leaders can gain valuable insight about their concerns and challenges, establish trust, foster engagement, and build a stronger sense of community.”

As you balance empathy and economics in all people decisions, knowing what is on your employees’ minds is important. An effective listening strategy to help employees return to the office entails gathering feedback at three critical points:

1. Pre-return: While the workforce is still remote, it is important to start a two-way dialogue to understand your workers’ perspectives, share preliminary plans, and solicit feedback. This can be done through manager-led discussions, virtual town halls and listening sessions, or online focus groups. Plan to conduct these conversations 1 to 2 months before return.  

2. The first month back in the office: Once employees have returned to the office, it is important to gather feedback on a regular basis. Setting up a COVID-concerns hotline and conducting a series of brief pulse surveys provide forums for employees to share their questions, reservations, and observations. This feedback allows organizations to make real-time adjustments and increase workplace safety.    

3. One to 2 months after return: Most organizations have undergone some disruption and will need to rethink critical aspects of their people strategy for post-COVID success. This includes employee experiences, value propositions, and physical work environments. By engaging employees through town halls, team discussions, and virtual focus groups about how the pandemic has affected them and what they think the new normal will look like, leaders can start building a more resilient and future-focused organization.

Bringing a workforce back to the office is no small task. Implementing an employee listening strategy will help leaders tap into the collective wisdom of their workforce and identify issues before they become problems for the employees and the organization.

Gathering feedback from your existing workforce is also a great way to know what does and doesn’t work when it comes to attracting new talent. Be sure to keep these tips in mind as you continue to navigate the “new normal.”