As many people speculate about when we can get back to a new version of normal, a number of our progressive companies are actively working on laying the foundational pieces to get people back to work @ work, as soon as possible. Although different industries and different parts of the world will have different phase-ins, the principles are essentially the same and have three main components: Mental, Physical and Social.

Mental

One CEO we work with in the US said to me that going back to work is going to be mentally challenging for some people. He likened it to an abused dog set free after being locked in a cage. The dog will be scared to come out and that’s how humans are going to feel when there’s still a virus out there.

We have to find a way to make it feel safe for people to come out of their homes, step by step. That starts by talking about it, now, to get a sense of what they need and to get them mentally prepared by offering a picture of what a happy and healthy return to the office looks like.

In a recent back-to-work @ work planning session, we started by having a conversation with the executive leadership team about what they needed to be comfortable and safe in the office. We discussed everything from their personal space to shared and public spaces, entries and exits of the building, and transportation to and from the office.

We need to be open to some people not being comfortable about going back into public spaces until there is a known treatment or vaccine. Also, for family or social reasons. And that’s understandable – until every single box of concerns can be checked off. People need to know that all the precautions have been taken, consistent with expert medical advice.

Physical

The primary concerns are how to manage hand sanitization and social distancing:

  • How we manage meetings in a boardroom that holds 12 people and now four or five people, six feet apart
  • How we design or reconfigure workstations, especially in open concepts
  • The maximum number of people we can safely accommodate in each area
  • Policies about wearing masks in the office or at face-to-face meetings
  • Protocols for personal and environmental disinfection.

And we’ll assess the effectiveness of people continuing to work and maybe rethink our needs for centralized offices.

Social

This is about creating new social norms. It’s re-shaping culture with values that reinforce safe behaviours and enable people to be productive and connected. These culture shifts should go beyond simply not shaking hands or fist bumping.

  • Policies and social contracts to ensure people stay home if they are sick. This leads to people feeling good about not infecting the rest of the team, rather than letting them down.
  • Mechanisms to ensure people are safe when they become more relaxed and appropriate responses to wide spectrums of risk tolerance.

It will be fascinating to see solutions unfold, over the next year.

The Challenge

  • What can you start doing now to get yourself, your team and your company mentally, physically and socially ready to get back to working at work?
  • What parts of your company will remain virtual and what is your plan to make them productive, long term?

Your suggestions are welcome.