How To Prepare Your Workforce For Re-Entry
The coronavirus pandemic forced companies around the world to adapt overnight to new ways of working. Millions of people started to work from home, with video conferencing becoming the ‘new normal’ way to keep in touch with colleagues as workplaces became virtual.
As businesses now start to take their first steps on the road back to some semblance of normality, it’s tempting to think the easing of lockdown marks the beginning of the end of the pandemic. But in many ways it is just the end of the beginning – the journey ‘back’ could be more dangerous than the route we have already travelled. It’s a sobering thought that over 70% of people who perish on Everest do so on the way back down…
The greatest economic and organisational risks to business lie ahead – but so too do the greatest opportunities. If leaders adopt the right growth mindset in terms of talent strategy, create a strong people-first culture and recognise that they need to plan for the ‘re-entry’ of their workforce, they can increase their chances of steering their organisations towards a safe and sustainable 2021.
“Think about how you can learn from these insights, celebrate them and help build a truly unique employee base in your business.”
Amidst the current rush to ‘return’, for many of us nothing is about to radically change and we should use that pause to plan for better execution. Large numbers of people are still exclusively working from home – and very few of them are expecting to return to normal working patterns any time soon. This suggests we have a precious moment to reset and reboot our workplace cultures and practices, as we all absorb how successful the world’s biggest ever home-working experiment has been.
Whilst everything might look and feel much the same, the people coming back to their workplaces after lockdown will have been very much changed by the experiences of the past few months. All the assumptions about employment being inherently good, routine being a stabilising influence and flexibility being a privilege might just have been turned on their head. As leaders, have we really got ourselves in a position yet to identify the assumptions to be challenged, let alone challenge them?
I think it is vital that organisations actively talk about – and ideally plan for – the forces affecting their people as they re-enter the atmosphere of their workplace. Many leaders need to anticipate that they have a new workforce returning, however familiar they may appear to be, and managers may well need to make meaningful changes in the way they get the best from their teams.
“How businesses treat their people now, and the leadership mindsets that go with that, is really going to make a difference.”
So what will it take to manage the re-entry process well, so that people and businesses can grow and flourish as we continue to transition through this next phase of the pandemic?
Workplace culture should be top of your priority list. Many businesses have asserted during the pandemic that the wellbeing of their staff is their number one priority. That commitment cannot be the first casualty of re-entry. How businesses treat their people now, and the leadership mindsets that go with that, is really going to make a difference.
The importance of leadership behaviours and values has been laid bare during the pandemic, as the other trappings of leadership have been stripped away. I believe leadership is now really about behaviours, not belongings. During the re-entry period, we must be aware of the way in which we frame our organisation’s conversations. Is the emphasis on a speedy return to routine; on buckling up and buckling down; and on making up for lost time? Or is the conversational hum about “how can I support” and what have we learnt from this past six months? Clearly high engagement and growth will come from the latter more supportive, open conversations. Unless your engagement and talent strategy is responsive to how people have changed, what they might now need and how they can contribute afresh, you will not get the best out of your people.
It is also crucial to ensure your inclusion strategy is a key driver of all your talent attraction and retention efforts. How have the differences and uniqueness of your workforce helped you respond to the pandemic? Whose voices have been more prominent? Whose voices have been harder to hear? Think about how you can learn from these insights, celebrate them and help build a truly unique employee base in your business.
Finally, be overtly talent conscious in the coming months. Do your work roles need redesigning post COVID-19? Have vital new tasks and responsibilities emerged suddenly, outdating existing role titles and definitions? It was already commonplace before the pandemic to talk about the need for businesses to focus much more on skills and less on job roles. The pandemic has underscored that need, showing up which are the key skills really needed to drive an organisation’s competitive advantage and business critical workflows. The ability to adapt and overcome has never been more valuable. It’s vital to be discriminating about the people, skills and capabilities you need to hit the ground running in recovery.
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