Progressing from a lockdown stage 3 environment to one where more employees are returning to an office requires that businesses implement carefully considered action plans to transition back to physical environments that are productive, effective and, above all, safe.

ManpowerGroup South Africa managing director Lyndy van den Barselaar explains that, “When the lockdown happened a large majority of knowledge workers transitioned to remote work as a global pandemic forced immediate change, almost overnight. As we move forward, returning back to physical workplaces won’t be for everyone, but offering an in-person set-up is necessary or preferred for many businesses and workers.”

Drawing on our local expertise, and in partnership with a number of other prominent global HR services businesses, ManpowerGroup has developed a roadmap that businesses can put into place to create a back to work action plan.

  1. Plan through team effort

Returning to an office work environment will be a challenge, which will require input from the organisation as well as lessons learned and best practices from other businesses and industries to develop a roadmap to transition back to an office safely.

“Involve colleagues in return to work planning, as a matter of priority. This recognises that, following weeks of enforced lockdown, colleagues may be reluctant to return to work, unless they are confident in the healthy working measures in their workplace,” says van den Barselaar. “Once the plan and a clear timetable are agreed to, implementation will be more successful if it is genuinely a team effort across the whole organisation with high levels of involvement at every level.”

  1. Implement changes

Assess the operations before lockdown and current lockdown procedures and identify gaps that need to be changed to transition to a temporary normal. As with planning, the implementation effort should also be holistic. Facilitate collaboration between internal stakeholders and departments to develop what actions need to be taken (e.g. construction of physical barriers) that are implemented in coordination with administrative controls (e.g. changes to shift patterns and work schedules).

  1. Measure and evaluate effectiveness 

With so much change all at once, there will continue to be lessons learned at every step of the way. Businesses should put controls into place and schedule regular sessions to gather input from colleagues on improvement suggestions, and then implement corrections as needed. Further, constantly evaluate whether the measures can be quickly adjusted for a tightening or relaxation of pandemic regulations and physical distancing rules.

“Months after a dramatic turn of events, businesses won’t be able to turn the corner overnight. But the good news is they can lay the groundwork with lessons learned from others, work together and be prepared and ready when returning to a physical workplace,” concludes van den Barselaar.

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