What Business Owners Should Consider After Employees Have Been in Isolation
Now that COVID restrictions have started to lift, businesses are going back to working in their respective offices. As a business owner or a manager, you’ll need to consider some possible causes of conflict and be ready to react to them. People are on edge after such a long time being isolated by themselves or with family. It’s your responsibility to make sure that your employees are comfortable in their environment so they can fully transfer back into a fully-functioning work environment.
What Business Owners Should Consider for Their Staff Post-Isolation
There are things as a business owner that you’ll need to take into account now that isolation is slowly being lifted. Many people who work for you might not be completely ready to jump back into a fully-functional society. It’s not that they aren’t willing to work or that they can’t work hard, but the time they spent in isolation got them used to the environment of working from home. People might be on edge or still have some insecurity about going completely maskless even after getting vaccinated.
If you’ve given enough time and preparation into creating policies, plans, and modifications, your employees will certainly make the adjustment better than simply throwing them back into the workforce.
How to Support Employees’ Return to Work As Lockdowns Are Lifted
One of the best ways to support your employees is to be prepared, and be willing to compromise a bit. Your employees will recognize the effort that you made in preparing policies and helping them to comfortably return, but they will still need space to fully function within the workplace. Some will be more adaptable than others and not be as put off by the changes, but you cannot expect that everyone within your workplace will be that way.
Here are five policies or workplace changes that you might want to consider when people return from lockdown:
1. Mask policy
Having a mask policy and ensuring people won’t be discriminated against should be implemented. Some people will feel more comfortable wearing a mask regardless of the current COVID conditions while some might believe it’s unnecessary to wear one. To avoid conflict, a policy that gives people the option to wear a mask and prevents discrimination against those who decide to continue wearing one, or those who don’t, should be considered.
2. Hybrid work-from-home schedule
Hybrid schedules that involve both time at home and time in the office can help break the tension of being back in the office. There are many people who barely left their house during isolation, so the idea of being thrown back into the working world can be jarring at best. Giving them a period of time to recover can help bring them back into the right mental state. You can also consider giving your employees more autonomy in their projects. Employees became used to relying on their own will to work during the pandemic, so giving them some autonomy in the workplace can help them feel more at ease.
3. Change of work environment
As a business owner, you understand that a work environment which is suitable for employees can make them feel more comfortable and work more efficiently. Since everyone was at home during this period, modifying the environment so it’s more homelike could be beneficial. Consider more open areas, more natural sunlight, and more comfortable furnishings to make the area more comfortable. In fact, many modern companies have started to modify their workplaces in this way before the pandemic started and have been proven to improve the efficiency of employees.
4. Consider emotional support
You should always consider emotional support when it comes to work-life. You and many other business owners may have already set this as a priority through your human resource team, but now with people coming from a completely isolated state to a now bustling one, there’s likely to be tension. Having some resources available that they can access at their own discretion can be a benefit to those who are getting out of self-isolation.
5. Be prepared to plan
No matter what you do, you should be prepared to plan ahead. Having something in mind when you first bring people back and showing that you care about your employees not only helps your employees but it can also benefit your business in the long run. Don’t dismiss their problems and let them run wild without a proper plan in place. Creating a plan that allows them to feel more comfortable and lets you manage them better as soon as they get into the workplace is important.
Managing a Team Going Back to Work After the Isolation Lift
Once you have an idea on the policies you want to implement, managing your employees will certainly be easier. The primary point to keep in mind while managing your team is the mindset in which they are coming from. A management style that is overbearing and aggressive is likely to turn away the employees who have since been self-isolating. They aren’t used to being micromanaged or have active supervision while working from home, so giving them some autonomy will benefit them in the long run. That’s not to say they don’t need direction, but being forceful and overbearing may have the opposite effect.
Along with a management strategy, you should also keep in mind the state in which they are coming from. Some people might not be completely willing to go back to working around people without a mask, so giving them options and space is key. You might even consider breaking teams up into smaller groups so they can feel less overwhelmed about working with others. Going from self-isolation for a full year straight, into a corporate meeting with tons of people is bound to set some people on edge. Instead, limiting the number of people who need to constantly interact with each other can be a benefit.
Giving employees options without belittling their choice is the best way to approach people who are sensitive from the long isolation. People coming out of isolation have been rude and discriminatory towards others as a self-defense mechanism from the time spent in isolation. You should prepare strategies that include dealing with conflicts in the workplace.
The plan that you develop should include:
Analyzing behavior & events
The good news is that you know exactly what everyone has been experiencing the last year—a pandemic and self-isolation. This makes developing a plan to fit and work around these points much easier. Instead of having to cover a broad, nearly impossible subject, you can instead focus on conflicting points within these two.
Prioritizing areas of conflict
The number one area of conflict will likely be masks. Whether someone chooses to wear a mask or whether they go without one shouldn’t be the cause for discrimination. While you might believe in masks or you might not, you can’t be biased towards one side or the other with restrictions being lifted. The important thing is, to look at who is being discriminated against and figuring out a way to solve it.
Develop rules & policies
You might need to develop policies that require masks, or for employees to stand at least six feet apart at all times. It’s important to be consistent and make sure that you enforce the requirements as much as possible to limit conflict.
Follow through with your plan
Another area of conflict is the lack of communication. People aren’t used to communicating with each other anymore in a face-to-face manner. A lack of communication is detrimental to any team’s success and practically spells disaster for the workplace.
Communication is Important
Policies to address a lack of communication can be difficult to conjure up. It can usually be alleviated with consistency, feedback, setting expectations, setting up a safe space, and developing a baseline for communication in the workplace. There’s no single policy that can prevent a lack of communication, but transparency while making employees comfortable and aware of their situation can help.
If you are looking for more information on reducing conflict after COVID-19, here are four points to consider when managing your teams:
- Make sure they understand the “why.” Communicating the importance of each policy can result in less interpersonal conflicts.
- Use your business history. Highlight some areas of difficulty where you and your employees managed to succeed despite all odds, or give them an overview of the current expanding business to let them know what’s on the horizon.
- Have masks and supplies available. Whether people use them or not, having masks and other supplies readily available can reduce arguments.
- Encourage communication. Communication is the foundation of business. A person must be able to communicate if they need help or need information. Encouraging communication can make you more aware of potential conflicts and help get employees on the right track.
Anticipating Policy Changes and Needs
In any case, managing your employees might be a challenge, but it’s doable. As long as you have a little preparation done and are aware of potential conflicts that may arise at any given time, you are guaranteed to be a step ahead in successfully managing your team coming back from a long isolation period.
Contact Apogee System Consultants today, for help with your management and HR needs. Our consulting services consider your clients and your staff, ensuring your business is taking a holistic approach to your policies as they continue to evolve, post pandemic. We are in the business of helping people, after all.