HR’s Back-to-Work Boost: 23 Return to Work Checklist

Posted in Best Practice

Nobody has a blueprint for reboarding. It’s a huge challenge. But it’s also a huge opportunity. Probably the biggest opportunity you’ll ever have.

Because it’s a chance to move the needle on engagement, productivity and loyalty for every employee, across the entire business, at once. That’s never happened, and it’ll (probably) never happen again. (More on that in our Return to Work Playbook).

So the stakes are high. Knowing where to start is hard.

If that’s you right now, here’s a quick action checklist of 23 practical things you can do right now, to deliver an awesome reboarding experience.


Practical actions to support managers...

Managers are the driving force of reboarding efforts. Helping them helps everyone.


  • Schedule a group call with managers

Grab an hour with all your managers to chat through their current challenges, concerns and ideas, to encourage them to learn from one another. Circulate pertinent ideas afterwards.

If time-zones make one meeting impossible, run several but circulate takeaways across everyone afterwards. Where relevant, connect managers one-to-one who’re facing similar challenges in different offices or time-zones.

Re-schedule monthly if it’s helpful.


  • Send managers relevant resources

As our Return to Work playbook says, micro-learning is more important than macro-learning right now. Connect your managers with relevant resources in a regular bitesize format, like a weekly email. Here’s a possible template:

Hi folks – as managers and team leaders, you play a vital role in how well the business navigates this current situation. Here’s some of the best bitesize learning content we’ve found this week: 

  • Leading a remote team through a crisis [Article]
  • Listening is an overlooked leadership tool [Article]
  • What great listeners actually do [Article]
  • Questions to ask your teams right now [Article]
  • How to improve your remote communication [Article]
  • Ten ways to have a better conversation [TED Talk]
  • Schedule a weekly email asking how you can help

We wrote recently about leadership expert Dan Pontefract’s golden question: ‘how can I help you?’ Put the power of those words into fast action by scheduling a quick weekly email to your managers asking exactly that. Follow Up Then is a great resource for scheduling recurring reminders, if you don’t already use it.


  • Encourage managers to co-set 1, 3 and 6-month goals

Ask managers to set 1,3 and 6-month performance targets with their team members. Reboarding is like onboarding all over again - teams might be working in new ways, on new things, picking up new slack. Managers should treat them like new hires.


  • Brief managers of managers

As Harvard Business Review say, “When you’re managing managers, your responsibilities are two-fold: you need to make sure they’re producing good work (as with any employee) and that they’re effectively supporting their teams.”

The latter is often neglected – and right now, it’s especially crucial.

To help achieve that, managers of managers need to be on message. Schedule a briefing meeting with your manager-managers now, to ensure they’re encouraging crucial people management competencies.


Practical actions to support employees...

Your people need more support during transitions. This isn’t business-as-usual.


  • Check employee information is current

Now’s the time to double- and triple-check you have updated contact information for all your employees, so you can relay information quickly if needed. Like contacting at-risk people, who can self-isolate before they risk spreading the virus through your whole office.


  • Create and circulate a reboarding survey

As our Return to Work Playbook says, the need to listen is amplified during times of transition like this. Employee pulse surveys are your friend right now. If you haven’t, write one right now, to understand how you can best help.

(Or check back next week, for our guide to the questions you should include).

  • Create an anonymous feedback mechanism

People are often more honest when they’re anonymous. And their honesty is absolutely in your best interests. Create an anonymous feedback mechanism now (Google Forms is a simple way) and let everyone know you’re welcoming constructive criticism.

Then set a reminder to regularly review, react to, then summarise in a company-wide email what you’re doing to grow.


  • Ask about skills gaps – and schedule training

Layoffs can introduce new skills gaps that are hard to see. That hinders your long-term workforce planning ability and increases the pressure on returning employees (and long-term stress often equals turnover).

Ask managers and employees to identify glaring gaps – so you can provide immediate micro-training and guidance.


  • Block ‘open door’ time in your calendar

You need to spot and solve potential problems fast, before they damage engagement. You might have an “open door policy” but often, that’s a buzzword that doesn’t translate into useful HR conversations.

Instead, take meaningful action and block a regular weekly slot in your calendar now. Then send a company-wide email inviting people to book ones-to-ones straight into your diary during those hours.


  • Create a monthly internal newsletter template

Better communication happens by design. That is, when you build the structures to facilitate communication flow through the business.

An internal newsletter is one such structure. If you don’t already have one, create a template now, sharing company news, challenges and priorities. It’s also helpful to include an evergreen section sharing links to the most important resources employees might need.

It doesn’t need to be perfect. It just needs to be.


Practical actions to encourage connection...

Human connection is key to engagement, productivity and retention.


  • Reassess your seating plan

There’s nothing more demoralising for returning team members than sitting surrounded by the empty desks. Especially if those desks are empty because you had to make lay-offs.

Social distance shouldn’t mean social isolation. But with fewer people in the office at once, that’s a big risk – and your current seating plan probably isn’t fit for purpose. Maybe new inter-team co-working space could be a better fit than team-based seating.


  • Switch-up lunch schedules

By the same token, fewer people in the office at once means people might be isolated in their break-times. If you currently stagger lunchtimes by team, for example, lots of people could be stuck eating alone.

Encourage people who mightn’t otherwise to socialise together. Maybe you could group people together and order them lunch as a treat.


  • Set-up virtual watercooler chats for returners

Set up virtual watercooler chats with returners across the business, so people can support one another. Returning to work can feel pretty daunting, especially if the colleagues you normally turn to for support aren’t returning with you.


  • Create a virtual/socially distanced event 

COVID-19’s wiped-out many of the regular ways your employees interact socially, like afterwork drinks, or lunchtime gym sessions.

Brainstorm some possible virtual or socially distanced events you could hold that would replicate that. Then poll your workforce to decide which to prioritise.

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Practical actions to boost morale...

Morale can easily become a casualty in a crisis. Don’t let it.


  • Plan a future event

Our recent State of EX: COVID-19 Impact research shows most people are feeling anxious and uncertain at the moment. We’re existing in an endless state of present, without knowing what the future holds.

Getting something in the diary to look forward to is a quick win. Get people involved by polling ideas and creating a planning group.


  • Start a recognition programme

There’s nothing like feeling taken for granted to dampen morale. And likewise, a small act of recognition can have a big impact.

Send a quick email now asking managers to nominate someone on their team. Then schedule a simple company-wide email recognising those people’s great work. Repeat regularly!


  • Remind people WHY their work matters

When people connect to your purpose, they’re four times more likely to be engaged, motivated, learn faster and have a sense of fulfilment. Purpose matters. And reboarding is a great time to remind people, to cement a sense of purpose that’ll help carry them through these challenging times.

Read more: Purpose trumps passion in employee performance

A great way to reinforce purpose is to connect employees with the people who directly benefit from their work, so they can see the true value of their contribution.

With that in mind, what stories could you share about your company’s impact for customers? For the wider community? Now’s a great time to send a company-wide email with some feel-good stories.


  • Kick-off a positivity sharing circle

There’s a lot going on right now, and everyone’s facing challenges. But there’s lots of positive stuff happening too. Create a space where employees are encouraged to share those ‘yes!’ moments, however small.

If you use Slack, this could be as simple as setting up a channel and sending the first message.


Practical actions to prepare your office space...

As your people start to trickle back to work, it’s crucial they feel safe and healthy in the office.


  • Vet office cleaners

Make sure your office cleaners are prepared for stringent new hygiene priorities. You’ll probably want to start with a deep clean then increase the frequency/length of their visits.

Then send a quick email company-wide, so everyone knows what you’re doing to keep their workplace clean and healthy.


  • Order health and safety supplies

Make sure your office manager(s) have this stuff under control. Think hand sanitiser, PPE, sanitising wipes, awareness stickers/posters, and so on. Some hand crème would be a nice touch, since everyone’ll be using drying sanitiser all-day.

And delegate hygiene reps to ensure hygiene stations stay topped up and functional.


  • Update (or get!) booking systems

You need to manage the flow of people into, around and out of your offices, to ensure social distancing. A resource booking system is a great way to do that, ensuring car parks, desks, canteens, meeting rooms and other shared spaces are never over safe capacity.

A booking system is also useful to track who’s come into contact with who, should someone get sick.


  • Create a handover form for shared spaces

Shared spaces are a potential contagion hotbed. It’s helpful to create handover forms to remind everyone using those spaces to sanitise the space when they leave (or for cleaners to verify they’ve cleaned between people). That way, everyone takes responsibility for helping keep themselves safe.

In the average year, you can only impact around 5% of your workforce with onboarding. But great onboarding delivers an 82% improvement in new hire retention and 70% increase in productivity. 

Imagine the possible impact if you get reboarding right. 

Download our Return to Work Playbook to map out your reboarding strategy. 

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