Whenever you decide to return to work, it’s time to think about re-onboarding

Confusing times. Just when we all thought we were being encouraged back to work, we’re told to work at home…

Still, whether it’s today, tomorrow or in six months’ time, sooner or later we will be heading back to the workplace. But a recent survey from Huma showed 54% are reluctant to return because of COVID. Part of this reluctance is down to the fact that the workplace they are returning to is not the same workplace they left: masks and social distancing, changes to processes, restrictions on communication and interaction, uncertainty about the future, etc. The job title may be the same but the reality of the job is very different.

Returnees to work are also likely to arrive with a variety of concerns: about the job, about COVID-19, maybe personal stuff about family or money… In reality, the workplace may never be the same again.

So, how to bring people up to speed and accustom them to all the changes? Imagine they’re new in the job (in a way, they are) and carry out some onboarding and induction.

Re-onboarding tips

However you do it – a video, online guidance, a chat with the line manager, a training event… – the following points should prompt some thoughts around both what to include and how to do it…

  1. What do they need to know?

What has changed? Processes? Procedures? Workplace layout? Business priorities? Ways in which you interact with customers? Whatever impact the virus and pandemic have had, your people need to know about it. The first and most obvious is probably how you will ensure workplace safety, i.e. mask-wearing and social distancing.

Think about the employee experience. Bottom line: what will be different when they return?

  1. What do they need to do the job, in the current circumstances?

One good thing about enforced home working, the situation acts as a focus, putting your people and the way they work under the spotlight. Ask yourself, what didn’t go so well and what impact would fixing that have.

  1. Mental health support

Anxiety doesn’t help at work. And yet, anybody returning to work after lockdown will be doing so after one of the most anxious six (twelve?) months of their life. It may just be the restrictions they lived under, or maybe something more specific and serious, such as a bereavement. Acknowledging this anxiety and the need for support is a good first step as people return.

  1. Radical transparency

How ‘radical’ you choose to be is up to you, but in times of uncertainty and change, openness and transparent communication is both important and appreciated. Some colleagues may not have a job to return to. Even after a return to work, the future will continue to be uncertain. Not all the messages will be positive but being 100% honest with your people is the foundation strategy for a successful return to work.

  1. Further development

On top of everything else, comes the question of skills and knowledge. Do your people have what they need to perform in the new/changed work climate? What do they have to deal with that they didn’t before. For example, many businesses are experiencing greater numbers of ‘difficult’ customers as services no longer work as they used to and expectations must be adjusted; this leads to more conflict with customers and callers – are your customer service reps equipped to deal with the new normal?

The coronavirus pandemic will come to an end. It may take a while, but it will end. When you’re bringing your employees back into the workplace, it’s important to understand how their working world has changed, and what they might need to perform well in that new world. Not to mention making the most of whatever lessons around teamworking, communications, customer service, etc. have been learning during the lockdown period.

Whatever their individual experiences, returning to work is not returning to normal. Even if the workplace hasn’t changed too much, your workforce probably has after the experiences of 2020. In that sense, the whole workforce is ‘new’ in some way and the tried and tested method of getting new staff up to speed as quickly as possible is onboarding.


If you want to know more about managing your people in the ‘new normal’, check out our blog for other ‘pandemic topics’ or give us a call on 01582 463462; we’re here to help.

Categories: HR

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