There are many hot topics being shared right now but none more heated than the idea of when and how to reopen our buildings and communities. For over a year we have literally stayed to ourselves-working and playing from our homes. Most of our organizations are still functioning in a virtual manner, meeting on computer screens with lots of faces in equal-sized squares. Some schools have opened up in a mostly hybrid way so our children can propel forward in their education. Of course, there are still many students still learning remotely with little contact with their friends. We are definitely still living in a strange and unprecedented time.
Re-opening is on the minds of every leader who is eager to begin the process of connecting in-person. In an organization I am working with, the discussions are starting to reach a crescendo. The outrage from some leaders wanting to pick up the pace is being matched by leaders who feel meeting and working remotely is the way of the future. The question that keeps coming up is : “When will we get back to normal?”
Here are five critical leadership considerations to re-opening:
1. What Are The Feelings Of The Stakeholders?
The first step for leaders in evaluating a re-opening decision, is to take the pulse of the people who would be returning to the workplace. What does that mean? Since many stakeholders have been out of their physical buildings for over a year, there may be a hesitation to return to their workspaces. In my experience, people are fearful to re-enter a building, worried that they may contract the virus as many team members may not have been vaccinated. They also have gotten so accustomed to working from home that there is a psychological fear of working outside of their home offices.
2. Is Our Building Safety-Ready?
A second consideration for leaders is to assess how prepared their work environment is for teams to come back safely. According to a recent SHRM article, it is essential to follow these steps:
- Spacing workstations farther apart.
- Installing barriers to prevent the transmission of the virus.
- Adjusting the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, such as increasing the sophistication of filters or increasing the airflow.
- Using outside stand-alone purifying systems or fans to move the air faster and make it cleaner.
3. Who Will Be Responsible For The Re-Opening?
Equally as important as preparing the physical workspace is having a solid plan in place that every stakeholder is aware of. To design such a document requires a COVID 19 task force that is comprised of both medical and non-medical individuals to decide how to share the plan with everyone. In one organization, this task force has become the guide and compass for all decisions. They are consulted on how to manage difficult personal situations such as travel restrictions, quarantines as well as emotional issues that come up from time to time.
4. What Has Changed and What Has Remained The Same?
As with every change, it is important to be clear on what will stay the same before organizations went into lockdown and what will be different with the re-opening. A post COVID 19 work world can be looked at from the same lens as any big change or transition.
- Have a proper goodbye of what things used to look like. Honor the losses with the team.
- Be clear on the expectations of the new work environment, leaving room for fearful or upset stakeholders.
- Acknowledge that together new dreams and plans will be made.
5. How Will The Next Phase Be Monitored?
The final leadership consideration is deciding how to keep propelling forward. Sure there will be bumps along the way and unexpected closings or re-evaluations. The key is not to let those setbacks turn your team backwards. It’s fine to have disagreements as long as everyone shares them in a respectful way. Above all, leaders may need to function in a “gray zone” with tons of ambiguity and uncertainty. Go with it. We will find a new path that feels right and empowers us to perform at our best.
What additional critical leadership considerations are you and your team making for a welcoming re-opening? If you would like some support in a post COVID re-opening, please let me know.