Business & Finance

How to plan your business reopening and your team’s transition back to work

By Jo Strahan, C2C Training

Many businesses are still to re-open or have only partially reopened. Will you be opening fully or partially soon?

As you prepare to re-open one good way to start the process is to look at three key areas:

  • Are your people anxious or even fearful about the return to work?
  • Have you undertaken a review, implemented the lessons learnt and developed a clear transition plan?
  • Is your team ready and motivated to adopt changes you have introduced?

Let’s consider each of these questions in turn.

Are your people anxious or even fearful about the return to work?

As we transition out of the pandemic, people have the dilemma of balancing safety with security of employment.

Engage with your team and help allay people’s anxiety by talking to them and listening carefully.  In advance of returning to work consider arranging a Back to Work conference call, with clear and concise messages about what happens next and when. Zoom or other platforms allow for anonymous Q&A chat during the call, helping you address immediate concerns.

People will need time to reflect on what you’ve said.  So, set up one-to-one follow up calls, ideally two days later.  These can be conducted by you as the business owner or by well-briefed line managers, depending on the size of your team(s).

In client conversations we’ve noticed that people have been working longer hours through fear, uncertainty or boredom. Restore work-life balance on their return to work.

It is critical that you recognise this, find ways to restore it, and review your processes. A ‘lessons learnt’ workshop is a great way to do this. You will probably find that actually not everything during the Covid19 pandemic has been negative. Make sure you create an environment where people feel they can share their experiences and opinions, listen to what worked well during this time, and identify changes that were efficient and allowed simplicity to flourish.

Can your team leaders use their emotional intelligence to manage a potentially emotional time for staff? Maybe you can support team leaders with access to eLearning to enhance their skills in this area.   

Have you undertaken a review, implemented the lessons learnt and developed a clear transition plan?

Your people will be very proficient at their ‘normal’ role. However, the return to work and necessary changes may mean a drop in productivity, the need for additional training, and the ability to deal with frustrations that changes inevitably bring. 

Managing the back to work transition requires a plan which includes the lessons learnt and then covers the 5 W’s:

  • Why are the changes needed? As teams reconvene, they’ll discover that everyone’s experience of Covid-19 was different. This may affect their behaviours and how they adjust to the new norm.  Help teams reconnect by creating an environment where people are respectful of other’s positions. Set the ground rules clearly and explain why these are needed.
  • Who is doing the work?  People can get precious about their role or the part they play in a team. With some people furloughed, other staff will have been asked to pitch in and do things outside their normal day to day role. Effective delegation is needed to reallocate or reassign the workload, whilst being mindful of individual’s emotional responses. Setting clear roles and responsibilities, briefed well, will help your team settle into the new norm.
  • Where will work be carried out? I’ve been asked to visit construction sites to carry out Covid-19 assessments. When this can’t be done remotely, I visualise where I am going, how am I going to get there and who will be there. This helps me plan what’s needed and ensure that everyone can adhere to the current social distancing rules. As an employer, you can give clear information about where people will be working and how they can get there. This will help to alleviate anxiety. 
  • When will this happen? Whilst the situation remains fluid it is important to give your teams ample notice of when these return to work measures will be in place. This will allow them to make arrangements in their home life and mentally adjust to the change.
  • What is the new work or role? Prior to Covid-19 everyone knew their role, and the tasks that they needed to complete. Following a ‘lessons learnt’ review, you may have updated some processes. These changes will affect returning staff, and the people who took on additional tasks during lockdown. Your Back to Work plan needs to clearly communicates these changes and embraces them.

As an employer or manager, it makes sense to treat the return to work as a project in its own right. You need a well-defined and concise plan, that is clearly communicated to your team, and managed with an understanding that in these unusual times we don’t have all the answers. When your team know that you have a plan in place and you are working with them, taking their challenges into account, you can ensure a smooth transition and a united team.

Is your team ready and motivated to adopt changes you have introduced?

Ensuring your people embody the behaviours you want to see and focus their efforts on achieving the team’s goals, is a key part of team development.

When your staff have taken part in the lessons learnt exercise, demonstrate through your actions, not just your words, that their concerns and ideas have been heard. By showing that you have listened, they will embrace the necessary changes much more quickly and with greater understanding.

With teams fragmented, team spirit will have been tested during lockdown. As everyone comes together, consider a team building exercise. This can be as simple as a fun ice breaker or a quiz.

Using the three questions we have discussed here in your planning and preparation will help you make the re-opening a success. With careful handling you’ll have a smooth transition to the full re-opening of your business, and a happy team.


Joanna Strahan is founder of C2C Training Group, which offers high quality assessment/competency-based courses in Health and Safety, leadership, business skills and personal development. Joanna brings 18 years industry experience to her training courses to ensure that learners are engaged and change is generated. C2C Training’s aim is to break industry norms and influence positive change to the way training is delivered.