Supporting people in the transition back to work

29/06/2020
Read Time: 5 Min
Illustration of two people communicating virtually

14 weeks after the government lockdown, and management teams are starting to transition their teams back into work. As well as practical considerations, such as government guidance on air ventilation and distancing measures, most are also considering what the immediate changes will be for their teams and the future of the workplace.

Our Commercial Team are supporting a number of portfolio companies think through these considerations. We’re also working closely with experienced HR leader, Lesley Davies, to give additional people management and employee wellbeing support to both the ECI team and the companies we work with. In this article William, Richard and Lesley draw out the importance of bringing your people with you every step of the way on the journey to ‘the new normal’. 

1. Communicate your plans effectively

The pandemic has been a real test for clear communication in a fast-moving world, as the lockdown imposed unprecedented and immediate changes to the way we work and live. Communication needs to be further dialled up as staff return to work and want to understand not just the process, but also how their employer will be ensuring their safety.

Ensure regular and accurate information is easily accessible, and in particular archive old guidance to keep your Covid-19 communication channels straightforward and efficient to use. 

Equally important is communication on business performance. Good, bad or unchanged, people will want to know the plans being put in place and how they can help. Try to use technology to allow maximum participation with these updates, and find ways for people to ask questions and put forward suggestions. 

2. Ask your staff how they’re doing and share feedback 

Checking in with people’s wellbeing is so important at this time. Not only will people be rightly concerned about the virus, but they may have got used to a calmer, slower pace of life, particularly if they have been on temporary furlough and resuming work as normal will take some readjusting. 

The best way to gauge all needs is to sustain open, honest dialogue. At ECI we’ve been carrying out a regular employee survey to provide an anonymous forum for suggestions for improvement and to address any concerns or fears. As a result of this we have introduced an Employee Assistance Programme which everyone has access to, as well as rolling out virtual social events and provided staff with extra guidance and equipment for remote working. It’s key to really listen and show empathy; try not to bring too many preconceptions to people’s concerns or presume an existing solution is applicable. 

Complete the loop with any listening mechanisms you put in place, it’s not enough just to ask. Ensure feedback is shared on a thematic basis, and if you get suggestions, communicate back whether you are going to implement them, and if not why not. 

3. Involve staff in solving the new problems 

Across our portfolio it’s been fantastic to see how their teams have organised their lives in “real time”, adapting to new information, juggling priorities, and taking on situations they wouldn’t have been prepared for. With this has come a new independence, more self- management, and a heightened level of control in the face of uncertainty. 

Capitalise on these new skills by involving them in the solutions to the future of work in the current climate. This might be something like inputting to the design of the new virtual customer journey or preparing guidelines for a safe and secure working week. As well as recognising and encouraging the constructive behaviours we’ve all had to adopt as part of lockdown, it also drives ownership which will help staff retain some control and prevent any “feeling done to” – whilst contributing to the solutions that every business needs to find right now to win, re-gain and retain customer trust.


4. Support staff to fulfil their personal potential

Habits, rituals and norms that took years to form were wiped out overnight on 23rd March, both at home and in the workplace. In this environment many people, whether returning from furlough or returning to a physical workplace, will want to understand how they can succeed within this new context. This is especially important if the performance management and feedback culture you spent years building has fallen down the priority list whilst fighting fires. 

It’s likely your existing performance management principles and tools are all still valid – and can successfully continue “virtually” – but you will want to ensure extra effort in order that:

  • People are clear on their objectives, especially if work focus or content has changed
  • People know how they are doing in this new business context and how they will be measured 
  • People understand any new requirements of their performance and are supported

There are many examples of staff going over and above in this crisis and putting their own needs on hold. There has been a lot of emphasis on retaining team connections which is to be celebrated, but perhaps less focus has been placed on individual personal development. It’s important that your people know you are still invested in them and are committed to supporting them to fulfil their personal potential. They should feel able to drive their own performance and career – without guilt. Making time and giving permission for quality performance conversations, coaching and development and crucially feedback, is important right now.

Development and crucially feedback is important now, quote

5. Build on the changes that have been delivered

The last few months have been a big exercise in change management, and we believe there are a huge number of positive changes we can bring with us as we emerge from the crisis. This can include the success of a digital workplace revolution, the biggest flexible working experiment ever attempted, or the mass acceleration of trust we’ve all been part of. We are proud that many of our portfolio companies have had the confidence to use the initial downtime to invest in improving their processes and operations, which will be further built upon as we continue this journey into the ‘new normal’.

In particular, use this time to see what has worked and what hasn’t worked and how you can incorporate that into the future of your business. Through the conversations you’re having and the technical tools you’re using, you should have access to real-time data on how people have handled that change. Exploit this data and invest time in talking to people about what changes to celebrate and also what hasn’t worked and why. Done right, you will hopefully have a business better positioned for the future, with a proactive team invested in the future vision for themselves and your business. 

About the author

Rich Pearce

"I work in ECI’s Commercial Team to support our management teams in unlocking growth opportunities by offering hands on support as they need it. I also lead our People function which involves driving the people agenda across the portfolio and managing much of the HR-related functions internally here at ECI."

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