How to Put Employees’ Needs First When Reopening the Workplace

How to Put Employees’ Needs First When Reopening the Workplace

By Tricia O'Connor

If fleeing the office before COVID-19 felt like a fire drill; returning to that same workspace may feel like running headfirst back into the fire.

  • Is it safe?
  • Will I stay healthy?
  • Will my friends and colleagues come back?
  • What rules do I need to follow?

As any crisis does, these questions understandably provoke anxiety and stress. But while employers may be focused on regulations and required safety protocols, you may be accidentally ignoring employee’s psychological safety. If that happens, it can send your culture up in flames.

A new ebook coming soon from EBI and Civility Partners offers guidance, tips, and advice for organizations looking to reopen and rebuild your workplaces and reaffirm your values to employees. Read on for a preview.

What’s the Issue?

To start, give yourselves a hand. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, you responded swiftly with remote deployments featuring full technological support, helped your employees adapt to new work from home circumstances, and provided fun and engaging ways to boost morale.

In many successful cases, you maintained the core business fundamentals, people strategies, and leadership avenues that made you a success in the first place.

Returning to the workplace presents another challenge that will require a delicate balancing act between physical safety and emotional safety. As Marti Kurland, leader of EBI’s Global Design Culture and Catherine Mattice-Zundel, President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, discuss in their new ebook, you can use your company culture to bolster both physical and emotional safety with winning results.

The ebook, Beyond Safety: Reopening and Rebuilding Your Workplace with Employee Needs and Organizational Culture in Mind, is being offered to people who participated in a recent webinar presented by Kurland and Mattice-Zundel. You can receive the ebook, too, upon its release – download the On Demand Webinar and get yourself on the list!

What’s in the Book?

The ebook will focus on three main aspects of the reopening process:

  • Crafting your plan
  • Safeguarding your culture
  • Developing connection between the two

The idea is to show a direct link between how the structural and procedural moves you might make to protect your employees’ physical safety might impact their emotional safety. The ebook promotes an understanding that employees are riddled with anxiety, stress, and nervousness about their return to the workplace, but that refocusing on your core values and company culture – a practice called Design Culture – may help lessen their fears.

In her post, “Driving Humanity Back to Business with Design Culture,” Marti Kurland, EBI’s Leader of Global Design Culture, describes the practice as a cohesive organizational superpower. Design Culture is a blend of defining your organization and your core values and ensuring your environment matches that mission. EBI embodies the spirit of Design Culture by combining our mission, “To be the happiest company,” with our modern and innovative headquarters, recently named one of Baltimore’s Coolest Spaces.

Here’s an excerpt from each section of the ebook.

Crafting Your Plan – Defining Your New Normal and the Opportunities Within

Employee engagement is the nucleus of any successful organization. The methods of fostering positive employee engagement have changed during the pandemic, but the goals are the same. Consider creative ways to continue to build long-term sustainable relationships with employees. For example, EBI has utilized all staff meetings with honest communication, fun contests, socially distanced book clubs, and resources for self-development along with fun weekend family ideas; these may be things your organization can explore and communicate.

How do we blend the new with the familiar? How do we assess how to best support our employees?

Start the process in the same place Civility Partners does when we work with toxic workplaces – at the beginning. Start with discovery by holding some employee focus groups and conducting a short survey to understand how your workforce is feeling, what they need to feel safe, whether they’re getting what they need, and their suggestions for the future. Through this process, you can answer the following types of questions: 

  1. What resources (physical and emotional) do employees need to be successful as they transition back into the workplace?
  2. What do they need from leadership?
  3. How are they feeling about returning?
  4. How are they feeling about the future?
  5. Have they gained trust in leadership given how leadership responded to COVID-19? Or quite the opposite?
  6. What ideas do they have for transitioning back to the workplace?
  7. What questions do they have about protocol for customers and visitors?
  8. What does a new normal look like in their minds?

Knowing the answers to these questions and more will allow you to address the new expectations of employees.

Safeguarding Your Culture – Create Room for Emotions

During COVID-19, employees probably haven’t been totally honest about how they’re feeling because showing emotion has so far been socially unacceptable at work. It’s considered weak and unprofessional to be emotional, and with potential layoffs looming over everyone’s heads, they’ve probably made it a point to appear strong and resilient while silently suffering from the anxiety a COVID-19 world brings.

Now, emotions can’t be an elephant in the room. Design Culture encourages emotions to be discussed and factor into your new normal. Now, more than ever, it’s time to change the paradigm about emotions at work.

Encourage employees to be honest and embrace their emotions, so they can identify their origin, and move through them.

Connection – The Other Vitamin C

Human connection is truly the other vitamin C and has been proven to boost our immune systems. Humans are social creatures, and while we have gotten used to video conferencing, socialization has been one of our biggest deficits.

This pandemic has also leveled the playing field, gifting every member at every level in the organization a common experience. Turn this into a cultural strength for your organization. Before you reopen consider curating weekly 30-minute social discussion-only video conference chats. Use conversation starters or games to get things started, if needed. Then, you can up the fun by creating competition challenges between teams. At EBI, we have found these to be very effective and they can and should be continued once you return. When people feel part of something bigger than themselves, you have the strongest foundation available to build a safe and culture-enhancing reopening.

Reach Out

If you’d like to get on the list to receive the upcoming ebook, click here to download the On Demand webinar.

As this return to work evolution begins, we are learning how to reduce the stress and urgency we felt at the beginning of this fire drill. We will use Design Culture as our framework to make positive decisions that reassure our employees and help mitigate fear and anxiety about coming back to the office.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Find us on LinkedIn or Email us.

About the Author

Tricia O'Connor

Tricia O'Connor

Writer. Digital marketer. Storyteller. An award-winning writer and editor, Tricia O'Connor is the Marketing Content Manager at EBI. Tricia worked as a broadcast and print journalist for nearly two decades writing and producing programming for high-profile networks like ESPN Radio, History Channel, and Hallmark Channel, as well as contributing editorial work to publications nationwide. Tricia joined the EBI marketing team in 2019 and is responsible for content strategy, development, and engagement. Tricia earned a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is a proud undergraduate alumna of Wheaton College in Massachusetts.

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