While the "stay at home" orders more or less took companies by surprise (meaning that they were not at all prepared to deal with the implications), it’s been fairly clear for months now that once the crisis ends, the "going back" process will not be an easy one. Nobody knows what the "new normal" will look like, but there’s no doubt that we will need to adjust to it, and the HR and L&D departments will have to assist the process.
Since there won't be a magic switch to make all things exactly like they were at the beginning of March 2020, adapting and sometimes completely transforming job roles and logistics will be essential. So let’s take a look at what challenges reboarding might pose when the time comes:
1. Safety issues will be a top priority
The one thing that has been consistent throughout the current global crisis is uncertainty. We have all turned overnight into (healthily so) germophobes. The reason why offices and schools closed and people had to work and learn from home was that those spaces were no longer safe.
Going back means dealing with any worries that employees may have – these are very personal, subjective feelings that have nothing to do with how well a space is equipped or what top-notch procedures are in place. People must be asked about their concerns, and these should be addressed even before announcing the in-office reboarding.
Companies need to show that they care and are prepared to make the necessary adjustments just as their employees had to when they were sent home in the first place.
2. Permanent changes in location are more difficult than they look at first glance
Employees are expected to return to the spaces they occupied before the shelter in place orders. However, this long work-from-home period has enabled many changes that were perhaps going to happen in the next couple of years anyway. Many people will have to continue working from home because it makes sense from the organization’s perspective.
While remote work does have its perks, and most employees were declaring to be happy to have the option occasionally before it became the norm, not everyone will be thrilled to make it a permanent arrangement. For many folks, going to the office was about a lot more than completing projects and getting a paycheck. Their emotional needs have to be considered and the logistics may be an issue as well – they might need ergonomic office furniture or better internet connections.
3. Changes in job roles will be especially challenging
HR and L&D will have a difficult time dealing with the reboarding aspect. Since a lot has changed in the economy (regardless of the field), some people may have to be redistributed in order to still be helpful to the organization. That means they will need to learn new skills, develop new competencies and find ways to fit into positions they didn’t necessarily want.
Any such changes need to be presented like opportunities instead of singular solutions in contrast to contract termination. Empathy will be the key word (and feeling) when reboarding means a complete change of job attributes.
It’s up to the learning specialists to develop the best-suited programs and the HR people to find ways to make the transitions smoother and the end-results positive. It’s essential to keep in mind that people are generally reluctant to change, and this last year has been overly traumatic for most anyway.
4. Reboarding to get ready for disembarking
I am aware of how the headline above sounds. It’s a delicate subject but one that is relevant and will not disappear if ignored. You only have to read the top five headlines on any news site and you’ll find at least one mention of companies that are parting with some of their employees.
Many local and national governments worldwide have offered various financial stimuli to companies that promised to keep on their workforce for some time. These subsidies cannot go on forever, and organizations can’t possibly keep on workers they don’t need.
However, what they can and must do is use the time that they are bound by contract to maintain those contracts to equip people with as much knowledge and expertise as possible, so they are competitive in the work market. This is essential not only for brand reputation or winning an "employer of the year" award, but it’s a question of thinking long-term and seeing the big picture instead of putting out small fires.
Reboarding employees will be a big, bittersweet process instead of the great celebration we’d all like to have. Getting over a crisis and finding ways to move forward is never easy, but it can be the launching pad for a new journey with the right mindset and preparation.