Anyone who runs a business or organization has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some companies have even had to shut down operations over the last few months.
Luckily, many of those same companies have started reopening. Maybe yours is too—and maybe you’re wondering how your company’s culture will change when you’re all back together again. How can you create a positive culture in the post-COVID era? Here’s an overview of the most important considerations you should keep in mind as you reopen.
Adjust Your Expectations
First of all, you need to manage your expectations and be realistic when you start inviting employees back to work post-COVID-19. You can’t assume everyone will happily return to the way they used to interact with each other immediately.
Some employees will be reluctant to come back, and might even ask if they can continue working remotely on a temporary basis at least. Schools and childcare facilities may still be closed when you reopen, so some employees with kids may need to work remotely longer than others.
Other people may understandably be anxious about getting sick, even when you have followed all appropriate guidelines from local and state public health officials in reopening. Still others may be fine with coming back to work, but they may request to work from home a few days per week, or they may not want to participate in any get-togethers or gatherings beyond what’s strictly necessary for their job.
Expecting some reluctance will serve two major purposes. One, it will help you guard against the feelings of discouragement and frustration you might have if you imagine everyone will be eager return to work. Secondly, it will indicate to your employees you understand their concerns and that you take their safety seriously, which will in turn promote a positive company culture once again.
You should also adjust your expectations regarding reopening. COVID-19 will likely be with us for some time. We do not yet have a vaccine or a consistently effective treatment for this virus, and it is possible that it will return in waves. Don’t be surprised if local authorities mandate closures of nonessential businesses again in the future.
Make Sure Your Workplace Is Safe
Businesses should not open until local governments declare that it is safe to do so. In addition, before reopening, you’ll have to create a plan for workplace safety. Safety goes beyond culture, of course, but you can’t foster a positive culture right now if people don’t feel safe at work.
There are some resources available to businesses to help with this: the CDC’s Resuming Business Toolkit and OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 are two. The CDC also has a whole website with more in-depth guidance on specific topics related to reopening, such as their Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting. Additionally, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has a publication called Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Check with your state or local government as well; for example, California has guidelines that are industry-specific.
The specific guidelines may vary, but in general, you may have to conduct a hazard assessment of your workplace, develop a cleaning and disinfecting plan, establish social distancing polices, and develop an action plan for suspected or confirmed cases. Depending on the nature of your business, you may want to consider physical upgrades to the building, like plexiglass shields to minimize contact between cashiers and shoppers in retail settings.
These are only a few examples of the challenges you may have to address. Making your workplace safe is a massive, complicated task that goes beyond the scope of this blog post. However, it’s necessary if you want an environment where people feel confident to come back to work.
Communicate Policies Clearly and Consistently
A huge part of making your workplace safe is ensuring that employees understand all new policies and procedures. Cleaning and disinfecting are vital, but if employees do not follow social distancing guidelines, they’ll increase their risk of getting sick. That’s why clear, consistent communication is more important now than ever before. Whatever measures you decide to implement—new procedures to reduce contact with customers, guidelines for what employees should do if they get sick, and so on—make sure that everyone understands. Depending on the policy, this may require training.
You may want to invest in informational posters or signs to display in bathrooms, break rooms, and common areas that remind people of the symptoms of COVID-19 and guidance on mask-wearing, handwashing, and cough and sneeze etiquette. Additionally, the CDC’s Resuming Business Toolkit recommends businesses establish a “COVID-19 coordinator” who will be responsible for COVID-19 issues and their impact in the workplace. This person can communicate updates and answer employees’ questions.
Reopening after COVID-19 may be a monumental task that will require planning, coordination, possible physical upgrades to your building, re-training, and more. It will also require a mental re-set when it comes to your expectations and goals. But if you prioritize safety and communication and adjust your expectations, you can nurture a positive company culture in the post-COVID era.