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Can I use Google Maps? Those returning to work need clear directions.

Can I use Google Maps? Those returning to work need clear directions.

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By the time you read this, I hope we will have made our way through the worst of the worst pandemic of the last 100 years. Many were spared from this deadly virus. Many were not: The death toll was – and continues to be – staggering. It has been a very dark time. I’m thankful for those who joined together in an attempt to support each other and minimize the impact, and fanned the tiny sparks of joy that were to be found. The human spirit is truly remarkable.

As COVID-19 moves on, so must we. Governments are lifting stay-home restrictions, meaning many people will return to work in the coming weeks. After months of being told it is dangerous to leave our homes, this will be a challenge for many. There are many unanswered questions. Is it safe now? Will it be the same as before? And there are bigger questions. Should it be the same as before? Will a pandemic happen again?

Focus on “top of mind” questions.

As we return to work, we’ve exhausted the phrase “the new normal.” I encourage you to focus on just normal. We normally like to talk to each other but much of our communication was not face to face even before COVID-19. According to Statista, in 2018 over 281 billion emails were sent (and received) and the 3.8 billion users of email can’t be wrong: Electronic communication is a part of our lives.

In January 2019, Business Wire reported 1 in 3 Americans made a video call at least once a week. In our mobile world, distance has become almost meaningless, most days. It’s as important to communicate as it is natural–no matter how we go about it.

As we return to our workplaces and begin to interact with people outside our immediate families, there are many unknowns. It’s crucial that employers focus on some important questions:

  • What are the expectations for distancing and cleaning?
  • What personal protective equipment is provided? What’s encouraged? What’s mandatory?
  • What are the protocols for concerns about exposure?
  • What communication channels are in place for employee issues?
  • What support is available for your people, such as day care, EAP and virtual physician services?
  • What reminders can you send about the coverage your benefits provide for key health supports including prescription drugs, psychologists, and dieticians, to name a few?

And, as you develop your “return-to-normal” communications, select a medium that is appropriate to ensure the message is timely and accessible. Maybe a poster on the washroom door is the perfect reminder about handwashing, while an email with the subject line “Your Health Benefits” serves as a reference tool that employees will keep.

Some things to consider in communicating with employees:

  • Be concise but congenial. While we have all been through a lot, we have not all been through the same. Some people will be struggling with the distancing, some will be afraid to be outside their houses, while others are most concerned with childcare. When communicating with your employees, be kind.
  • Defer to science and public policies. Our governments have provided strong, evidence-based leadership through the pandemic. While they may or may not be right, they have a lot of expert advice to base their decisions on. This will provide a solid foundation when setting company policies.
  • Acknowledge concerns. As I said, every one of us has had a different experience through this period of isolation. Some suffered serious illness, some suffered serious financial interruptions, some juggled work from home and childcare simultaneously. These same people will return to the workplace with concerns about health, money, and kids. For many, the concerns will be different from day to day as priorities shift and situations change. Frequently reminding employees of the support available to them means these resources will be top of mind when they are needed.
  • Be prepared for questions. We haven’t done this before. Rely on experts. Remember, there may not always be answers. Sometimes the best response is just taking the time to listen. That’s an important component of communication too.

Things continue to change.

We are moving into more uncharted territory as we return to work. Google maps doesn’t have the directions to get us to the other side, but with the same patience and teamwork that got us this far, we will get past COVID-19.

Stay safe, stay strong, and be well.

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