Survival & Thrival: Getting Back Together

Kurt Wilkin

There’s definitely a spring in our step this week. Maybe it’s the fact that PPP money has started to flow and the talk of opening up much of the country seems more real. It could just be that spring is in the air and “work from home” is quickly becoming “work on the patio” for many of us (at least in the South!). Everywhere I look I’m seeing more and more positivity. And I love it!

There are reasons to be optimistic. The numbers of new cases are decreasing, we’re learning more about the virus, we’re ramping up testing, and economies are starting to open back up. However—and I don’t want to be a wet blanket here—but we do need to continue to exercise caution. The COVID-19 health threat has not yet passed, and we will need to be safe and smart about how we move back toward “normalcy.” We will take monumental steps backward if we take this too lightly. I sure as hell don’t want to be talking about COVID-21!

Over the past few weeks, we’ve had one topic continually discussed in our CEO Forums: How and when will we get back to the office? The short answer is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Luckily, our forums are filled with CEOs from a number of industries, company sizes, and geographies, so we’ve had a variety of great insights.

I’ve been leading CEO Forums since the outset of the pandemic, and they have been an incredible outlet—both personally and professionally. Each week, I’ve learned a lot from my colleagues, mentors, and friends about how to deal with all this. Over the past few weeks, we’ve continued the “Survival and Thrival” message by sharing how to use the pandemic to innovate, and also acknowledged the reality that this is very hard work.  This week we’ll focus on getting back together.

Your Words Matter
Let me start off by saying that your words matter. Do not—I repeat, DO NOT—tell your team that you are “excited to get back to work!” What exactly do you think they’ve been doing for the past six weeks??? They’ve been busting their asses, inventing new ways to sell, deliver and operate amid unprecedented chaos. So please don’t say “Let’s get back to work on June 1!” Instead, say “Let’s get back to the office” or “I’m excited to be back together.” It may seem like simple semantics, but again, your words matter.

Getting Back
As far as actually going back to the office, I’ve been surprised by the variety of approaches discussed in the CEO Forums. Some are pushing for a complete return as soon as it’s safe, while others are considering allowing work-from-home as a near-term or even permanent option. Those are the two extremes, and most of our participants fall somewhere in between.

Whichever approach you choose, the bottom line is that the health and safety of your team must be your highest priority. There’s going to be a lot of apprehension among your employees, and rightfully so. It will be important to practice empathy. Come up with ways to keep your employees safe and minimize anxiety. Consider surveying your employees to find out what they are most concerned about. Let them tell you what they think needs to be done for them to feel safe, comfortable, and able to focus on their work. Then act accordingly.

Here are some nuggets from our discussions about returning to the office:

Clean, clean, clean. One CEO runs a cleaning and janitorial company. His phone has been ringing off the hook with companies seeking not only typical cleaning services, but also full-time cleaners whose sole job is to wipe down common areas. Think of all the items in your office that get touched and you will want to be sterilized throughout the day! Things like elevator buttons, faucets, breakrooms, and coffee pots.

Get creative. Another participant is bringing in out-of-work school nurses to be onsite to administer temperature readings and be available around the office. He’s helping an unemployed resource, leveraging his PPP money, AND helping keep his employees safe and giving them peace of mind. Win, win, win!

Social Distance. One of the biggest keys to “opening up” and returning to the office will be maintaining social distancing. Based on everything we know about COVID-19, it’s important to limit contact to limit the spread. In a previous article I mentioned things like going back in shifts, having each employee work two days at the office and three at home, etc.

Do what works for you. One CEO is planning to ask his team if they even WANT to go back to the office. He is considering going fully (or mostly) virtual. If you can do that, great! If not, a word of caution—don’t float the option to your employees if you are unable or unwilling to act on it. Case in point—another CEO is just finishing a brand new, very large (and very expensive!) office buildout. She likes the comradery and collaboration that comes with working together. In other words, she will not be floating the idea of work from home as a long-term option!

I’m curious: What are you planning for your office re-opening? How will you keep employees safe and answer their concerns about their safety? We’ll talk about HireBetter’s plan on my next LinkedIn Live. What are you doing to survive and thrive through all of this? The CEO Forums, these articles, and my new LinkedIn video series are meant to help others by providing outlets for useful information, war stories, and just plain venting. Please send me any ideas for future sessions—my inbox is always open.

Please join me this Wednesday morning at 10:30 Central on LinkedIn for a Live Survival and Thrival Q&A! Bring your questions, thoughts, and stories. I love hearing from you.

Our goal at HireBetter is to help you navigate the unknown and assist in any way we can, especially when it comes to questions about your team and the health of your business. We’re constantly updating our curated list of business resources for COVID-19 and are still offering free business continuity consultations. We will continue to host CEO Forums and keep you updated.

Good luck out there! I’ll close with my one and only Jaws reference—the beaches may be safe to enjoy (in a socially distant way!) but remember there is still a great white shark out there.

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