From all-hands meetings to catered lunches to simply entering and exiting the building, the coronavirus pandemic has forced businesses worldwide to reconsider nearly all aspects of the in-person work environment. As companies begin to transition back into the office after working remotely due to COVID-19, they are grappling with questions like:

    • What precautions should we take to minimize health and safety risks?
    • How can we prioritize employees’ health and safety without compromising their privacy?
    • How can we remain compliant with constantly changing guidelines and recommendations?
    • How can we support employees’ mental and emotional health during this transition?

There is a lot to consider.

Reboarding — the process of bringing employees back into the workplace after an extended absence — can help organizations minimize health and safety risks as they return to the workplace. Perhaps more importantly, effective reboarding will leave employees feeling protected and supported by their employers — which, during these trying times, is the “bare minimum” they can do for their people, says Andrew Rawson, chief learning officer at Traliant.

The New World of Work

The coronavirus pandemic has already impacted how we work. Many companies have had to quickly go remote, leaning in to collaboration tools and virtual meeting technologies to stay connected. But these changes are only the beginning. Ira Wolfe, president and chief Googlization officer at Success Performance Solutions and author of “Recruiting in the Age of Googlization: When the Shift Hits Your Plan,” says the pandemic has given companies the chance to “wipe their slate[s] clean” and reconsider long-standing policies and procedures. As a result, he says, the post-pandemic work environment will look “very different” than what we are used to.

Rawson agrees, noting that the pandemic has caused “seismic changes” in “the way we work” and interact with our colleagues. Reboarding can help reduce anxiety around these changes so that employees can stay focused on supporting business goals.

After COVID-19 largely normalized remote work, many companies are considering which organizational operations must happen on site, Wolfe says. For example, if sales team has found virtual meetings with clients to be as effective as, or more effective than, in-person meetings, they may decide to continue these virtual communications after the pandemic. Many companies will likely have employees work from home at least a few days a week after the crisis, Wolfe adds. And some major technology companies have even announced that, after the crisis, employees will have the option to work from home … forever.

Managing Health and Safety Risks

While some organizations may continue to operate remotely after the crisis, there are many others preparing to resume office life once it is safe to do so. Kristi Melick, co-founder of Small Business Employee Training, says it is vital for employers planning on reopening to train employees on COVID-19 compliance and changes to existing rules and regulations before they return to the workplace. Reboarding will help employees stay informed on how to keep themselves, their colleagues and their customers safe while conducting business, she adds.

There are numerous health and safety protocols that reboarding programs should address, including (but not limited to):

    • Social distancing requirements.
    • Temperature checks.
    • Cleaning, sanitation and hygiene guidelines.
    • Personal protective equipment (PPE) guidelines.
    • Company-wide procedures for suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases.
    • Visitor guidelines.
    • Entry and exit protocols.

Of course, reboarding should also cover industry-specific guidelines. For example, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released health and safety recommendations for restaurants and bars. Some of these recommendations include requiring employee handwashing (before, during and after preparing food and after touching garbage) and posting signs in highly visible locations that “promote everyday protective measures.”

Heather Bendinelli, Melick’s co-founder at Small Business Employee Training and director of employee relations and compliance at San Diego State University, says any industry requiring a “high amount of customer-employee interaction” (e.g., the hospitality, sales, retail and restaurant industries) should be “especially careful” when reboarding employees. However, she notes, all organizations, regardless of industry, should train their employees to remain compliant and address any concerns that employees may have about returning to work.

Offering Support

In addition to minimizing physical health and safety risks, reboarding is critical in keeping employees mentally and emotionally healthy. Rawson says effective reboarding can help employees navigate the “unique emotional, physical and psychological issues” associated with returning to work after this “COVID-induced, extended work from home experience.”

Learning leaders should foster a culture of psychological safety so that employees feel comfortable discussing their unique concerns during these unprecedented times. Bendinelli suggests encouraging employees to keep a “continuous, open dialogue” between their managers and teams to reiterate that their well-being is “of the utmost importance” to both the company and their colleagues and managers. “Allowing your employees to have as much of a voice as possible and listening to their needs can support them while they transition back into the office,” she adds.

By outlining health and safety protocols and precautions and supporting employees’ mental and emotional health, reboarding can minimize risk and give employees the tools they need to hit the ground running after returning to the office.