As countries cautiously begin to lift their various phases of lockdown, so too are companies beginning to reintegrate their employees back into the workplace. Adherence to being Covid-19 compliant is not only a legal requirement on the part of businesses, but it also provides employees peace of mind that they are returning to a safe, healthy and stable environment.

When the pandemic hit, many organisations had to quickly navigate transitioning employees into remote working environments. The world still remains uncertain with companies now slowly gearing up for their recovery phase. Both employers and employees are filled with mixed emotions, with some feeling partially uneasy and afraid, and others longing to return to some form of normality. The crisis accelerated a steep learning curve for not only companies but for employees as well. Leaders had to demonstrate large degrees of empathy, encouragement, and support towards employees who had to rapidly upskill themselves to remain digitally connected as they were relocated off-site.

Despite the enormous disruption created by this crisis, we cannot overlook the fact that both companies and employees have had an opportunity to pause and reframe how they anticipate re-entering the ‘post-Covid’ workplace.

1 Re-purpose

Companies have had the chance to repurpose their operations after aving relooked at their organisational structures, talent management frameworks, leadership competencies, online skills development plans and enhanced levels of employee engagement.

With the arrival of the pandemic, it was a requirement that employees had to become digitally astute in order to remain productive and connected with their employers. However, there has been a noticeable rise in employees voluntarily enhancing their self-development and employability through continuous learning. Employees are also looking at how best to repurpose themselves within this unpredictable world. It is therefore essential that both parties realign on their purpose.

2 Reboarding

As with the traditional on-boarding process, it is essential that HR, IT and Learning and Development Teams work together in structuring the return of employees into the workplace. Each employee should be welcomed back and handed all the necessary information, pertaining to any company recovery plans, structural changes, hours of work, remote working, workplace safety etc. Reboarding should be viewed as the perfect opportunity to inject renewed purpose, direction and growth into each and every employees journey within the company.

3 Re-imbedding and connecting employees with the company’s EVP

Since the employer value proposition is the guiding light to positioning the company’s values, behaviours and beliefs, now would be the opportune time to reposition your core positioning statement and the various pillars of strength that underpin the reasoning behind why your returning employees should remain with you as their employer of choice.

4 Personalising the employee experience

Businesses should afford employees the opportunity to reflect and re-evaluate what they have learnt through the pandemic – technically (Zoom, Virtual Learning Platforms, Digital/Social Media), cross-functionally (assigned to projects outside of their assigned roles) and behaviourally, through recently acquired power skills (verbal/written communications, adaptability, teamwork, time-management, agility etc.). More likely than not, employees have experienced emotional, mental and financial stress, whilst simultaneously having to adapt and innovate through unusual times. Companies need to appreciate employees’ efforts, invite further ideas and celebrate each and everyone’s contribution.

5 Continuous learning and internal mobility of employees

With employees having developed the capability of having to adapt quickly and confidently through these transitions, they are now pushing for further continuous learning and growth opportunities within their companies. Many organisations have put their recruitment initiatives on hold with strong consideration being given to recruiting and/or mobilising existing employees internally before looking to recruit externally.

6 Ongoing communications

Transparent, accurate, concise and ongoing communications pre and during the pandemic has been the success factor of reputable brands like DHL and Microsoft. In this webinar Jasmin Pillay, Director of HR at Microsoft SA confirms that before Covid-19 struck one of the factors that became extremely evident was that “creating the space” within which employees could work remotely was different for everyone. Companies need to identify and appreciate that each employee’s needs are unique and that each situation should be dealt with differently.

Reboarding through the recovery phase will be a gradual process, with some employees expected to return to the workplace sooner versus others who will continue to work remotely. Management of employee expectations and thoughtful and sensitive discussions certainly need to remain as companies continue to weather the storm through this recovery period.

(first published by CHRO South Africa on 22 June 2020)