Many small businesses are being to plan for their reopening, or if they have been maintaining their businesses during Covid-19 perhaps they are preparing for staff to return to their workplace.
Launching back into business as though we are suddenly ‘back to normal’ isn’t going to serve your staff, your customers or you yourself. Here are the three questions to help you reopen your small business successfully as told by Jo Strahan from C2C Training.
So how can you ensure you’re prepared and ready to reopen?
A good place to start is by asking yourself three questions:
- Are your people fearful and anxious about returning to work?
- Have you implemented the lessons learnt and developed a clear transition plan?
- Are your people ready and motivated to follow the new path?
Let’s look at what you can do in relation to each of these questions:
Are your people fearful and anxious about returning to work?
Covid-19 has tested and threatened our basic human needs, from our health to food shortages to being apart from those we love. As we transition out of the pandemic, people are left with the dilemma of balancing their safety with their security of employment.
The best way to engage with your team and help allay their fears is to talk to them. In advance of your teams returning to work consider arranging a Back to Work conference call. This should be led by you as the business owner and should have clear and concise messages about what happens next and when. You can use Zoom or other similar platforms to create an anonymous Q&A chat during the conference, where the presenter can address anyone’s immediate concerns.
Effective communication can be critical when engaging with your staff, especially during times of change and often the most important form of communication is listening and being able to respond clearly and definitively to the majority of questions, and action any takeaways.
People will need time and space to reflect on what you have told them, so follow up the conference call with a one-to-one call with their line managers (or you if you have a small team), ideally two days later. Managers will need to have a more in-depth understanding of the company’s back to work plan and be given parameters as to what adjustments if any, they can make. The last thing you want is for the person to come away from this call with more unanswered questions.
From conversations with our clients, we’ve noticed that people have ended up working longer hours through fear, uncertainty or even boredom. Restore work-life balance on their return to work, remember the goal is to work smarter not harder.
It is critical that you recognise this, find ways to restore it, and review your processes. A ‘lessons learnt’ workshop is a great way to do this. You will probably find that actually not everything during the Covid19 pandemic has been negative. Make sure you create an environment where people feel they can share their experiences and opinions, listen to what worked well during this time, and identify changes that were efficient and allowed simplicity to flourish.
Ask your people what they want to see continue in their working life and what they would like to see less of.
Do your managers/team leaders have the skills needed to develop good employer relationships and can they use their emotional intelligence to best manage what can be an emotional time for your people? With a lot of team leaders or managers having little to no formal management training a great way to help is to give them access to eLearning platforms so they can develop their skills in their own time and space.
Have you implemented the lessons learnt and developed a clear transition plan?
Your people will be very proficient at their role in normal circumstance. However, the return to work and necessary changes may mean a drop in productivity, the need for additional training and the ability to deal with frustrations that change inevitably bring.
Planning is the key to managing the back to work transition. In your plan include the lessons learnt and then cover the 5 W’s:
- Why – Why are the changes needed? As teams come back together, they will discover that everyone’s experience of Covid-19 was different. This may affect their behaviours and adjustment to the new norm. It will be very important to create an environment where people are respectful of other’s positions. To help teams reconnect set the ground rules clearly and explain why these are needed.
- Who – Who is doing the work? People can get precious about their role or the part they play in a team. During Covid-19, with some people furloughed it is inevitable that staff will have been asked to pitch in and do things outside their normal day to day role. Setting clear roles and responsibilities, briefed well, will help your team settle into the new norm.
- Where – Where will work be carried out? Working in the construction industry means that I’ve been asked to visit sites to carry out Covid-19 assessments. When this can’t be done remotely, I visualise where I am going, how am I going to get there and who will be there. This helps me plan what’s needed for the day and ensure that everyone involved can adhere to the current social distancing rules. As an employer, you can give clear guidance and information about where people will be working and how they can get there. This will help to alleviate anxiety.
- When – When will this happen? Whilst the situation remains fluid it is important to give your teams ample notice of when these return to work measures will be in place. This will allow them to make arrangements in their home life and mentally adjust to the change.
- What – What is the new work or role? Prior to Covid-19, everyone knew their job and the tasks that they needed to complete. Following a ‘lessons learnt’ review, you may have updated some processes. These changes will affect the returning staff and the people who took on additional tasks during the lockdown. Your Back to Work plan needs to clearly communicate these changes and embraces them.
As an employer or manager, it makes sense to treat the return to work as a project in its own right. You need a well-defined and concise plan, that is clearly communicated to your team, and managed with an understanding that these are unusual times and we don’t have all the answers. By letting your team know that you have a plan in place and that you are working with them, taking their challenges into account, you can ensure a smooth transition and a united team.
Are your people ready and motivated to follow the new path?
Ensuring your staff embody the behaviours you want to see and focus their efforts on achieving the team’s goals, is a key part of team development.
Make sure your team has taken part in the lessons learnt exercise, and demonstrating through your actions, not just your words. Make sure that their concerns and their ideas have been listened to, you will help to ensure that they will embrace the necessary changes much quicker.
High performing teams need to work well together and be motivated, and during the lockdown, this team spirit may have been tested as the teams were necessarily fragmented.
As your team comes back together, consider a team-building exercise. This can be as simple as a fun ice breaker or maybe even a quiz.
As your business goes through this period of transition investing in your people, and empowering them to develop their skills, will not only build knowledge but also motivate them to achieve high levels of success. With careful preparation and planning your business can get through this difficult period with flying colours.