7 Ways to Help Your Team Adapt to the New Workplace Normal

As colleagues return to offices during the COVID-19 pandemic, safety, communication, and resiliency take center stage.

Remember New Year’s Day 2020? We all were enthusiastic about the start of a new decade. Many of us made lists of individual goals we planned to accomplish. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, and all of us felt the disruption. Those goals suddenly seemed unattainable. But they didn’t go away.

As many businesses restart with a balance of in-person and remote work, Human Resources leaders face a fresh challenge: how to keep their team safe, reignite their passion for work, and energize them to achieve those personal and professional goals. It won’t be easy, but it is possible. It will take equal parts fresh thinking and flexibility. Let’s look at seven ways to help team members adapt to the “new normal.”

1. Ask for feedback.

In times of crisis, listening becomes more important than ever. If your company hasn’t resumed in-person operations yet, ask your workforce their opinions about returning to the workplace. Address any fears they might have. Then, once they’re back in the workplace, solicit their feedback again to ensure they have all the resources they need. Don’t listen with the intent to respond. Listen with the intent to learn. This type of two-way communication will create a better work environment for all team members, whether they choose to work in the office or remotely.

2. Put safety first.

Gather the tools you need to make your in-person workplace safe. That might mean acquiring face masks and other personal protective equipment so your team members can interact with one another and with customers safely. Use signage to let everyone know your company’s guidelines regarding masks and social distancing, and make sure to enforce those rules.

3. Get visual.

When your office reopens, will your team and your customers know how to socially distance properly once inside? Make it easy for them. Post visual cues in departments, common areas, and meeting spaces to ensure people remain six feet apart. One area not to overlook: the elevator. Make sure your team members know how many people can safely ride in the elevator, and where they should stand. Signage and stickers on the walls and floors will help make this happen.

4. Redefine productivity.

Most workplaces will face occupancy restrictions when they reopen, which means a certain percentage of your workforce won’t be able to return to the office. That’s why now is the perfect time for HR leaders to partner with organizational executives and reimagine what work looks like. First, decide which individuals and job functions will benefit from a return to the office, and which ones will benefit from continued remote work. Then, for those who continue working remotely, think about new ways you can help them achieve success. Remember, remote work doesn’t always mean working from home. At Atlantic Health System, we’re discussing how we can create outdoor environments where our team members can spread out and do their work differently in a new and safe setting.

5. Help Your Team Refocus.

Those professional and personal goals your team members set back on New Year’s Day 2020 are still valid today. But given all that’s happened in the last six months, some folks may need some extra help to refocus on those goals. Help them by letting managers know it’s still OK to talk with their teams about their career aspirations. In fact, these discussions are more important now, at a time when so many people feel a loss of control. Conduct these chats either in-person or virtually. They’ll provide your team with a much-needed sense of personal empowerment.

6. Build Resiliency.

Different states face different trajectories during the COVID-19 pandemic. While cases here in New Jersey lessened this summer, cases in Sun Belt states soared. The ebbs and flows in COVID-19 spread mean companies must place renewed emphasis on building resiliency. Businesses can accomplish this by giving team members enough time to decompress properly. Help your workforce develop schedules that allow them to step away and get rejuvenated, so they can get the rest they need. At Atlantic Health System, we’re redesigning our wellness program to encourage people to schedule time away for rest and rejuvenation. Another way to help your team become more resilient: Create forums or groups where people can talk openly with one another about their concerns or stresses. This helps remind them that, when it comes to coexisting with COVID-19, we’re all in this together, and your business truly cares about their overall well-being.

7. Reshape your company’s culture.

Much like before the pandemic, team members will gravitate toward work environments that embrace collaboration, teamwork, inclusion, and diversity. They will thrive in businesses where individuals respect one another and value the team member-customer relationship. They will want to work for companies that demonstrate corporate social responsibility and give back to their community. If any of these ingredients are missing from your corporate culture, work now to make the needed changes. It’s never too late to have a conversation that can create a better workplace.

One final tip: Don’t slow down. Continue to emphasize recruiting and find the best people to join your team. The unemployment crisis sparked by the pandemic means many high-quality candidates will be looking to reshape their careers. Help them unlock their passion. Doing so will energize your business and help you overcome any crisis.

Nikki Sumpter, SPHR, SCP, is senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Atlantic Health System, which is home to seven award-winning hospitals in New Jersey. She leads a passionate workforce of 17,000 team members and 4,800 affiliated physicians dedicated to building healthy communities. Atlantic Health System has made Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list for 12 consecutive years. It also made Modern Healthcare’s Best Places to Work in Healthcare list in 2018 and 2019, and ranked on Fortune’s Best Workplaces for Diversity and in Health Care and Biopharma lists in 2019.

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