Navigating COVID-19 (and beyond) requires organizational resiliency, flexibility, and innovation when returning to a new standard in business operations. HR and risk professionals need to understand how to overcome the legal, operational, and workforce issues created by the pandemic and their implications on effective back-to-work planning.
Here are four steps to build an integrated risk and compliance based back-to-work plan – and the questions you should be asking along the way.
First, Identify Challenges
Some of the biggest return to work challenges are those faced by HR and Risk Management. HR needs to plan for handling employee uncertainty, maintaining morale, adapting to regulatory changes, and managing productivity.
Risk, on the other hand, faces the challenges of operational planning, results planning, pacing the return to work, and compliance challenges along the way. How exactly can these HR and Risk challenges be handled effectively? With an integrated, risk-based, plan.
How can HR and compliance professionals respond to these challenges and plan a safe return to work? Read on for four steps to integrated planning.
1. Make a Return-to-Work Plan
How well do we understand the business? Consider what the biggest risks to your business are from return-to-work issues, and make them your priority. Understand what business objectives are put at risk, what processes are impacted, and who your key stakeholders are that need to be involved with the planning.
What operations need to change? Find the processes and areas of the business where you will need to get ahead of risks. Be aware of local mandates and have a plan to adapt to changing requirements. Be ready to make those changes to your back to work plan, and your business continuity plan as well. For example, health-based practices including telecommuting, rotating work shifts, and staggered meal breaks will probably need to be implemented to mitigate health risks as well as comply with local mandates. Be proactive when you can to preserve time and resources so you can focus on being reactive when you need to.
What is the best method of communication? Identify the best avenues to communicate changes with employees and keep them up to date on your new and updated policies and procedures. Develop detailed policies and procedures for elements such as contact tracing, COVID testing, sick leave, health checks, facility check-ins, and how COVID exposure and cases will be handled.
Employees often feel obligated and compelled to go to work because they don't want to get in trouble for attendance or appear to be slacking, or feel like they’re pushing responsibility onto other teammates. It is important that employees understand the importance of staying home when they are sick, and that employee health is a priority.
2. Execute the Return-to-Work Plan
As you begin executing the plan – whether that’s bringing employees back into the office or rolling out other new, semi-permanent operations – there are a few core considerations. How can you set expectations with employees and customers? How will you tie health and attitudes towards safety to operational results? When can you start moving faster? When should you slow down again, if, for example, COVID cases increase and local restrictions return?
Prioritize transparency and consistent communication to employees and stakeholders. Consider multiple audiences, especially remote vs. onsite workers, and how to communicate with each. Transparency is key on issues related to health and safety practices, furloughs, device use and more.
Resource: Back-to-Work Operations Planning Kit
Set clear expectations. Don’t sugarcoat things or make promises that can’t be kept. Set clear expectations around safety measures and put in the work to generate a workplace culture of safety, clear policies and procedures, and good operationalizing governance. If you plan to return to a physical work environment, like an office or restaurant, be very clear about policies on masks and social distancing – for employees, customers, and third parties alike.
3. Monitor the Return to Work
These unprecedented times call for new processes, procedures, and along with those come new measures of success. It is common for HR to monitor morale but keep in mind that morale is considerably lower this year as the pandemic continues to rage. Ask: How much has employee morale dropped compared to past years? Are employees experiencing heightened levels of burnout? It’s possible the answers might indicate a need to slow down or revise your return-to-work plan.
Monitor morale metrics such as:
- Turnover and attendance rates
- Rejection of reassigned duties
- Hotline and incident management reporting
Monitor third parties. If employee morale is a risk to your company, it is also a risk to your customers, suppliers, and third parties, who are all probably experiencing the same thing. Because of this, you will need to continuously monitor third parties for potentially disruptive issues. When monitoring third parties, leverage mechanisms like contract clauses and right-to-audit to increase visibility.
The key to good monitoring is continuous monitoring. A great option is to produce regular reports – weekly, monthly, or quarterly – to see how the business, and your plan, are performing. And do the same for your third parties.
Refine policies and procedures to reflect the realities of return-to-work.
4. Adjust the Return-to-Work Plan
Once you have monitoring in place and data to analyze, how do you recognize a job well done? How do you adjust business operations? What are best practices for HR? For risk mitigation?
Reward a job well done. Maintain morale by celebrating and even incentivizing the behavior and results you want to see, and to mitigate the need for correction. Some organizations may have rewarded a job well done with a company-sponsored pizza party; maybe now that will be a gift card for Door Dash or Uber Eats.
If continuous monitoring reveals that things are slowing down, KPIs are not being met, or something is not producing the results, return to the previous steps. It could be the case that an aspect of the business was not properly understood or accounted for, or vital stakeholders were left out of the plan.
Employ these four steps as a continuous process.
Regardless of where you are in your back-to-work planning or what it will look like for your organization, consider these key takeaways:
- When re-opening businesses, planning and communication are key.
- Don't boil the ocean. Employee safety first, then take a risk-based approach to the rest.
- Balance stakeholder needs. You have a duty of care to your employees, as well as a responsibility to customers, suppliers, and business owners to meet the bottom line.
- Start planning now.