How to prepare your UK SME for re-opening and employees returning to work

by Jo Strahan, C2C Training

As many of us start planning our return to work and reopening our businesses,

we need to consider whether we and our teams are fully prepared.

Launching back into business as though nothing happened isn’t going to serve

you, your staff or your customers.

So how can you ensure you’re prepared and ready to reopen?

A good place to start is by asking yourself three questions:

1) Are your people fearful and anxious about returning to work?

2) Have you implemented the lessons learnt and developed a clear

transition plan?

3) Are your people ready and motivated to follow the new path?

Let’s look at each in turn.

Q1) Are your people fearful and anxious about returning to work?

As we transition out of the pandemic, people have the dilemma of balancing

safety with security of employment.

The best way to engage with your team and help allay their fears is to talk to

them and listen carefully. In advance of returning to work consider arranging a

Back to Work conference call, with clear and concise messages about what

happens next and when. Zoom or other platforms can create an anonymous

Q&A chat during the call, helping presenters address immediate concerns.

People will need time to reflect on what you’ve told them. So, get your line-

managers fully briefed and they can hold one-to-one follow up calls, ideally

two days later.

From conversations with clients, we’ve noticed that people have been working

longer hours through fear, uncertainty or even boredom. Restore work-life

balance on their return to work.

A ‘lessons learnt’ workshop is a great way to help restore this balance. 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.

Can your team leaders use their emotional intelligence to manage what can be

an emotional time for your people? It may be useful to provide access to

eLearning platforms to help develop their skills in this area.

Q2) 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 changes 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 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 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


 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 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 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 returning staff, and the people who took on additional tasks

during lockdown. Your Back to Work plan needs to clearly communicates

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 are you are working with

them, taking their challenges into account, you can ensure a smooth transition

and a united team.

Q3) 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.

When your team has taken part in the lessons learnt exercise, demonstrate

through your actions, not just your words. that their concerns and ideas have

been heard. They’ll embrace the necessary changes much quicker.

With teams fragmented, team spirit will have been tested during lockdown. As

everyone comes back together, consider a team building exercise. This can be

as simple as a fun ice breaker or even a quiz.

The team with the best players wins and when companies win, their people

grow and thrive. This sounds like a chicken and egg scenario but investing in

your people, and empowering them to development their skills, will not only

build knowledge but also motivate them to achieve high levels of success. In

turn, this will deliver your return on investment.


Joanna Strahan is founder of C2C Training Group, which offers high quality

assessment/competency-based courses in Health and Safety,

leadership, business skills and personal development. Joanna brings 18 years

industry experience to her training courses to ensure that learners

are engaged and change is generated. C2C Training’s aim is to break industry

norms and influence positive change to the way training is delivered.


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