Better get onboard about reboarding before it’s too late

Think you’ve thought about just about everything when it comes to employee engagement and internal communications in the midst of the pandemic? Think again.

As Tara Lilien, Peppercomm’s chief talent officer, writes in today’s guest blog nearly everyone is overlooking return/to-work preparedness (a finding substantiated by our just-released co-branded survey with the Institute for Public Relations).  

Tara’s observations are particularly timely in light of the four Southern states planning to re-open on May 1. Would love to hear what you, and your organization, are doing to prepare for a return to the workplace.

As we anticipate the return to offices and the “old way” of working at some point in the coming months, we are considering what that will mean for the reboarding of our employees and teams. 

Reboarding is a process some companies have paid attention to for a while and have used it to help employees successfully return to work after a pivotal time away, such as maternity or disability leave. But how can organizations, both large and small, across the globe truly help employees return to work, in weeks or months from now, in a way that makes them feel safe (both in the physical sense and psychologically) and prepared for the new normal?

Leaping into remote work

Most companies leapt into “remote work” with little to no preparation and at 6 weeks later are slowly settling into the new normal.  Luckily, at Peppercomm, we have a very flexible workplace and many were accustomed to work from home – but certainly not for this extended period of time and with distractions of housework, concerns for health of themselves and family members and in some cases the transformation into teacher to their children.

In many ways, some may wonder if remote work is the future of work? For the most part, it’s been quite effective.  In our PR industry for example, business pitches have moved to video presentations in lieu of plane rides, hotel rooms and the costs associated with them. Meeting formats are more structured and agendas more quickly accomplished.  And our teams are meeting more frequently, daily in fact, which our employees have found an extremely positive experience.

Reboarding after this pandemic: top tips to consider

However there will be a time when our cities reopen and we return to cubes, offices, train rides and more.  With that, here are a few things we are thinking about:

  • Phasing in. Do we phase back the employees as we reboard? And how do we take into account the different nuances and guidance for people in different states and even different countries? Some may be anxious to get back to the office and work along side their peers, while others may be hesitant to board their public transportation and be amongst others if the virus is contained, but not abolished.  Will those who commute in their own cars travel with more ease than those who board a bus or train?  Perhaps there will be an opportunity to reenter as you feel ready.
  • Physical space. When we return, do our office configurations still work in this new normal? The emphasis has quickly moved from maximum density to reducing density. Companies that have moved to an open space concept, packing 5-10 people at a long desk will need to reconsider spacing.   Do we meet in conference rooms again for staff meetings, or do people participate from their desks and conference rooms transform to scrum type spaces for 2-3 people to collaborate in a big space? Will I meet candidates I am interviewing with a handshake or a simple nod?  People may want to keep their 6-feet distance long after the guidelines were issued and companies should plan to accommodate this as best as they can – safety will be our top priority, but comfort for your employees needs to also be top of mind.
  • Body/mind balance. With the emphasis while we are home and during this pandemic on physical well being and more walks taking place, more time for meditation and people taking up new hobbies – does that all go away once we are in the grind of rush hour traffic and away from our homes for most of the daylight hours?  We may see employees who want to figure out a better balance and companies may feel more inclined to offer this type of flexible schedule to allow for health as an even bigger priority.
  • Navigating change. Have our employees changed? It will be a few months away – but these months are significant in how they’ve impacted our teams.  Some got sick, while some got healthier.  Some lost family members.  Some became caregivers.  Some spent more time with their children than they had since they were born.  Some did not get to see their children graduate from college.  Some may have children still at home with school and summer plans suspended.  Some were alone the whole time and some couldn’t find a moment alone.  Think about leaning in to your EAPs (Employee Assistance Programs), meeting one on one with employees to really find out “how are you?”, and be flexible to a changed workforce when you finally all come together.
  • Oftentimes, during times of disruption or change, employees seek upskilling or different ways of learning. Many employees we know, at our agency and other firms, are proactively using this time to ‘up their game’. With many of the online learning platforms offering their services for free and adding learning modules to their libraries, we’ve seen employees very interested in embracing this way of learning.  How do we keep this pace of learning and development up when we open our office doors again? How do we share and apply knowledge? There may be an opportunity for companies to move more of their learning and development online and offer it in an on-demand format as it is happening now.
  • Co-creating reboarding. As an agency, we have spent this entire experience engaging in dialogue with our colleagues and acting on their feedback, informally and in real time. When it comes to re-entry and reboarding, we’ll be considering our employees’ voices and inviting them in to the process of determining what is right for our company. They may have some excellent ideas your CEO and HR team haven’t yet thought about.  If you are building a reboarding task force, consider not only your CEO, HR and operations leads and departments heads but also employees across all levels, locations and life stages.
  • Is fun even an option? We’re still going to need an antidote to the stress and general heaviness we’ve all been experiencing. At Peppercomm, comedy is in our DNA. When we re-open for physical business, we plan continue to incorporate the tenets of comedy into our service offerings and share laughs with one another. In good times and bad, and in virtual and physical life, there’s a space for levity and laughter. It’s good for business – and good for us humans.

Reboarding will take on new meaning for all employees in the next few months. Our CEOs, leadership teams and HR professionals are all building best practices around this together and in real time, since this is something unprecedented for which there is no handbook or case study to learn from.  We should be as transparent and honest with our employees throughout the process so they are an active part of the conversation.  How we act now will directly influence and impact the employee experience.  It’s important we start planning now – and then be prepared to be agile and flexible on our plans as this continues to evolve –  on what we can expect so we are better prepared to return than we were to leave our offices.


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