By Michael Murph, Analyst and Kaylynn Sanchez, Manager

If you regularly work in an office, there is no doubt you have asked or discussed the following questions this year:

1. When will we return to the workplace?

2. How are we going to return to the workplace?

COVID-19 has undeniably changed the way the world does business, challenging employers to think of safe ways to thrive in this new normal.

A big question many companies are grappling with is how do we return to the workplace safely following a global pandemic? And arguably, just as important, how will we effectively manage to implement and clearly communicate these changes within our workplace?

While there may not be a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to Returning to the Workplace (RTW), crafting and implementing an intentional change management approach to your RTW plan can create a clearer path for your company to proceed thoughtfully.

While there may not be a one size fits all solution when it comes to Returning To the Workplace (RTW), crafting and implementing an intentional change management approach to your RTW plan can create a clearer path for your company to proceed thoughtfully.

Why is Change Management Important?

Change can come in many forms, and oftentimes is an inevitable part of our professional and personal lives – like massive changes we are all experiencing in response to a global pandemic that we cannot control. However, we can manage how we react to it, and the changes we need to make within our own organizations. We can manage how our workforce reacts to it and how we prepare our workplaces.

Change management can be defined as the approach that guides how an organization prepares, equips, and supports individuals to successfully adopt change in order to drive organizational success and outcomes.

When change management is applied effectively, costs can be avoided and risks can be mitigated. Without change management in place, organizations run the risk of confusion, frustration, and disruption of day-to-day operations making it challenging for individuals to adopt change and thrive in their working environment. Whether you are creating a new organization, designing new work processes, implementing new technologies, or preparing your company to return to the workplace, change management is critical to strategically prioritize.

Organizational Change Management Strategies

As you work to define your change management approach while navigating COVID-19 and returning to the workplace, consider these organizational change management actions that you can implement to make this return as smooth as possible:

Identify The Key Players

Usually, when a company starts planning a change initiative, a stakeholder analysis is conducted to identify which employees need to be involved in decisions moving forward. A thorough stakeholder analysis ensures that the necessary decision makers are not left out, as this could cause a negative perception of the changes being made. With COVID-19, identifying and including the proper key players is extremely important, as this isn’t a normal change initiative – there is more sensitivity and privacy needed, as well as employees’ general well-being at stake. Take the time to thoroughly identify who needs to participate in the decision-making processes for how to handle returning to the workplace. Whoever needs to participate in decision-making may also change with time, so it is good practice to routinely revisit the stakeholder analysis.

Identify Where The Company Is Now and Where It Wants To Be In The Future

A good way to start approaching your return to workplace plan is analyzing where the company is now in regards to COVID-19, and where you want to be in the future. You can base your current analysis on a number of items, such as current COVID-19 case counts or how many employees are working at home and how many are still in the office. You can base your future analysis on a phased approach to reentry with a goal of having a certain percentage of employees back in the office or keeping COVID-19 cases within your company below a certain number. When you are able to identify the current state and the future state you can then hone in on how to get from one to the other safely.

Provide Appropriate Supporting Deliverables

The goal of supporting deliverables, such as training documents and company-wide communications, is to put the necessary information to support changes in the hands of the employees who are experiencing them. These deliverables should be where employees turn to educate themselves as needed. Returning to the workplace will have its fair share of new ways of working such as requiring face masks and keeping physical distance. Employers should create a thorough communication plan and outline of necessary deliverables to support their RTW plan. You may want to consider detailed training, company-wide communications, a RTW frequently asked questions document, job aids, and informational one-pagers for introducing new processes as needed that can help with the adoption of this new norm.

Create Channels for Constant Feedback

While implementing any type of change, allowing all employees to share their feedback is extremely important. Your employees can provide insightful information that can improve how the organization moves forward. This causes them to develop ownership in the change process, and especially during this difficult time employees want to be heard. They want to share how working through a pandemic has been and how it could be better. By working that into your RTW plan, you will be sure to gain buy-in early on and keep it. Consider remote focus groups, confidential surveys, or creating an online forum for employees to provide feedback.

General Considerations for Returning to the Workplace After COVID-19

– Whatever you choose to do for your return to the workplace organizational change management (OCM) strategy, make sure it is a people-focused OCM plan. Now, more than ever, people need to be supported in their careers. Focusing on them while you create your strategy will make for successful change management. Ask yourself, “Does this strategy make the employee feel knowledgeable and included in our RTW plan? Does it work for them?”

– Flexibility with your RTW plan is necessary. Being honest as an organization and saying that the RTW plan is fluid will help employees set expectations appropriately.

– Timing and transparency can take your RTW plan in either a positive or negative direction. Strategically think of the appropriate time to execute and the level of detail that is suitable to share with employees.

– At the end of the day, listening to your employees is extremely important. We all have various and unique feelings about COVID-19 and employees may not all feel the same. However, employees need to be heard so that companies are truly making decisions in their best interest. Be sure to check in with them consistently.

It is never too early to start preparing your company’s change management approach as you return to the workplace. It’s a process that requires time and a forward-thinking mindset to make it just right for your organization.

As challenging as this year has been, we’ve enjoyed partnering with our clients as they’ve worked through big change and are here to continue supporting them through these unpredictable times. Interested in learning more about change management strategies? Use the form below to connect with Sendero today.

It is never too early to start preparing your company’s change management approach as you return to the workplace.

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