Back to Work: How to Strategically Reboard Your Workforce
(June 30, 2020)
Crossing the street or stepping backward when you encounter another person has already become a habit, as has a routine elbow bump, instead of a handshake.
And that is definitely what is needed during a health crisis. But when the time is right, as a society we must bounce back to social connectivity to prevent productivity and relationships from being forever damaged.
Humans are social beings. Sure, we have varying levels of desire for social interaction; some of us want to spend time alone, while others are more inclined to want to hang out in groups. But in one form or another, we all strive for connection with one another.
The physical distancing and forced isolation was a shock to our social system. Although it is helping the health emergency, in the long run it will hinder companies’ efforts to ramp up productivity.
During the late 1970s, I remember the Big Three automotive companies launched a “Quality of Work Life” workshop to rebuild trust between employees and their superiors after an economic downturn resulting in layoffs. The Big Three knew ramping up productivity would happen only with repaired relationships.
Time to reboard
Whether furloughed or simply physically apart for weeks, we need to figure out how to come back together. Consider this question: “How can I reboard my employees?”
Let’s consider how to safely reboard a personal watercraft. While in the water, you first ensure the watercraft is right side up (always useful) and the engine off. Then, swim to the back of the watercraft, step on to the reboarding step, and grab the bar on the back of the seat to pull yourself onto the rear deck.
This analogy of a personal watercraft is about giving your employees something to grab onto, a sense of “us” socializing and reestablishing communications between them and the organization. A way to pull them in safely before revving up the engine.
I need to see a human!
Upon reboarding, don’t sit your employees in front of a computer or a large screen; they’ve watched enough TV in their self-isolation. As many of us know—either from firsthand experience or anecdotally—during the pandemic our children asked to go back to school, not because they missed the homework, but because they missed each other. Reboarding requires human connection, not digital distancing. Talent is smart enough to know when “authentic human connection” is not happening. There is a time for learning and development technologies, but not during this reboarding crisis.
It’s not the same workplace
The time for reboarding is on the horizon and will be here before you know it. As we prepare to welcome the workforce back to work, they will need to reacclimate to the facility and each other.
Reboarding is not onboarding and shouldn’t include interviews, references, and background checks. It is about reconnecting your employees under new business practices. Your effort to reboard will resurge productivity, even at higher levels than before Covid-19, as we work our way back to giving “high fives.”
Reboarding is about your workforce learning new business practices, a revised set of rules and guidelines for interaction with people, equipment, and space. An example of a new business practice is described by one of my HR colleagues:
“I interviewed with a local company a couple days ago, and it was very strange. Upon arrival for my appointment, I found the entrance locked. An employee opened the door, maintaining the social distancing protocol, and then I was asked certain questions concerning exposure to Covid-19 and was required to sign a form to that effect with a sanitized pen for me to use. I completed an application and watched a video prior to the actual interview. It was so different from what we are accustomed to, but given the current circumstances, it’s very understandable. The company is conducting business in a manner to best protect its employees and visitors from possible exposure.”
The factory workers cannot operate a machine from home or over the internet; they must interact with machines and people. As they come back to work, mingling should be safe and secure with proper hygiene etiquette about coughing, sneezing, and handwashing.
Consider the following reboarding suggestions.
Schedule an opportunity to reconnect. Coming back to work is not going to be business as usual as if we had just hit pause and are now ready to play and restart exactly where we left off. People need time to catch up, to share what happened to them during the crisis. The first day back, ask them to share their personal thoughts and feelings about their experience.
Debrief your employees. Provide them with a workshop to clarify plans going forward about any job changes, tasks, or deadlines. This is also where you can determine any confusion about accountability.
Adapt work. Ask your employees what they missed about work during the crisis, and what they did not miss. Figure out how to do more of the missed things. And decide if the things they didn’t miss have to happen. It is a great time to shed old, outdated, unproductive practices and build on the things that engage your employees.
Reinforce company culture. During the crisis, the company culture may have been relaxed while people were doing their best to keep things afloat. Now that employees are in the office, they need to be reintroduced to company culture and introduced to new business practices.
Just as the proper procedure allows individuals to safely reboard powered watercraft, so too will a solid reboarding plan for the workforce allow us to return to work with trust, and with full productivity and engagement. This will allow us to respect differences and look for opportunities to be more creative and innovative; we will be able to recognize common goals and ways to accomplish them together.
Develop a reboarding plan for your workforce.
Author: Carrie Van Daele, president and CEO of Van Daele & Associates Inc.
Credit: This article has been written for and published in Quality Digest, 26 May'20